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General Reveals Gulf War Air Strategy : Bombing: A key objective was to neutralize the threat from Irag’s stockpile of biological weapons through precision air attacks.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The threat posed by Iraq’s biological weapons and finding a way to neutralize them posed an ominous challenge to U.S. military commanders at the beginning of the Persian Gulf War, the general in charge of the Allied air war said Tuesday in San Diego.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner said early reports warned of possible catastrophic consequences if U.S. commanders ordered the destruction of the bunkers and factories where Iraq stored and produced its biological weapons.

Some intelligence reports warned that anthrax and botulism toxins could be released in the destruction and spread by the wind, killing “off every living thing on the Arabian Peninsula,” said Horner, 54, who spoke at a Downtown Kiwanis Club meeting.

But, after further study, an Army expert on germ warfare told the military brass planning Operation Desert Storm that the bacteria that cause anthrax and botulism are vulnerable to sunlight, heat and water. This information led to an Allied strategy for the destruction of Iraq’s biological weapons.

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On Tuesday, Horner revealed for the first time the genesis of the U.S. and Allied plan to destroy Iraq’s stockpile of biological weapons and offered an inside look at the planning leading up to and during the Persian Gulf War.

According to Horner, a plan was drawn up to bomb the Iraqi bunkers where the germ weapons were stored with aerial bombs designed to penetrate the hardened bunkers. Once the bunkers were opened, other pilots dropped laser-guided incendiary bombs through the openings to kill the bacteria with fire and heat.

The two bombing runs were followed by other planes that dropped mines around the destroyed bunkers to deny the Iraqis access to any biological weapons that may have survived the bombings, he added.

Among other revelations, Horner, an Iowa native, said that American television reports from Baghdad provided the military with valuable intelligence needed to prosecute the war. In particular, Horner said, CNN correspondent Peter Arnett’s live reports from Baghdad were invaluable “if only to let me know what the weather was like in Baghdad.”

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His comments were noteworthy because some U.S. political and military officials complained that Arnett’s reports were too sympathetic to the Iraqi cause.

For Horner, the elimination of Iraqi’s biological warfare threat was just one of the many successful air campaigns that he directed during the Persian Gulf War. Not the least of these was coordinating a massive air strategy involving air forces from nine nations whose training and weapons systems were as diverse as their language and cultures.

Although there were numerous incidents of friendly fire involving Allied ground troops, Horner noted that there were no such incidents in the air among the pilots from the Allied air forces.

If Operation Desert Storm showed the devastating role that high-tech weapons play on the modern battlefield, it also defined a new role that lawyers play in the U.S. military’s strategy in “regional conflicts.”

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“We had an Air Force lawyer review every target that we struck,” said Horner.

The lawyer was necessary to assure the Pentagon that bombs were not aimed at historical, cultural and religious sites, in violation of international law.

The selection of targets made for one amusing anecdote. Some strategists favored bombing a statue of Hussein in Baghdad, said Horner. The statue was discussed lightheartedly at several meetings, including some involving President Bush and Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, where targets were picked out.

During one meeting with Cheney, the secretary asked Horner “have you hit that statue of Hussein yet?” The issue was settled by the Air Force lawyer, who declared the statue a work of art and exempt as a bombing target, chuckled Horner.

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As practice exercises, U.S. war planners began selecting possible Iraqi targets as far back as April, 1990, about four months before the Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait, said Horner. Although he said that the invasion caught the Pentagon by surprise, Horner added that he and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of Allied forces in the Persian Gulf, had studied the possibility of an Iraqi attack.

Once the fighting began, “We planned the air war for two days in advance. We selected targets,” said Horner. ". . . How do you handle a fast-moving war? We created a system that put planes over the battlefield 24 hours a day.”

Midway into the air war, Allied pilots downed several bridges spanning the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, prompting some criticism about bombing targets that were used mainly by civilians. But, Horner said, it was necessary to destroy the bridges because the Iraqis had stretched fiber-optic cables underneath them to communicate with battlefield commanders.

One of the amazing statistics from the Persian Gulf War was that none of the Air Force’s F-117 Stealth fighters was hit by Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, said Horner. This was made even more incredible during the first three days of the air war, when Iraqi anti-aircraft fire over Baghdad was among the heaviest in history.

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Despite the Stealth fighter’s success in the war, Horner acknowledged that, at first, he was skeptical about reports that the aircraft was invisible to radar.

“Our scientists told me that the stealth worked. I didn’t believe them. I do now,” Horner said.


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