General Says US Air Force Ready to Hit Iraqi Targets Again
WASHINGTON — IF President Bush decides to resume air strikes against Iraq there's still enough United States airpower in the Persian Gulf to carry out the job, according to the commander of allied air forces in the Gulf war.As of this writing American officials were playing down prospects for renewed combat anytime soon, following last Thursday's White House statement that Saddam Hussein isn't fully disclosing his nuclear weapons activities. But 10 percent of the US air units deployed to Saudi Arabia are still in place - including a wide range of strike aircraft, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Horner at a breakfast meeting with defense reporters last week. "The military potential is there," said General Horner. But he declined to be specific about how long or how difficult a renewed air campaign against Iraq would be. He said that would depend on US and allied goals. The strikes might be simply a demonstration to make a point. Or they could be a concerted campaign to wipe out all possibility for Iraqi production of weapons of mass destruction. During the war in the Gulf, allied air forces destroyed approximately 80 percent of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons sites then known, according to General Horner. Further revelations of the extent of Iraqi capabilities means "to destroy everything would take a sustained air campaign of several days, at least," said Horner. But the general seemed to indicate that an extensive bombing campaign would quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. When the Israelis used eight bombs to destroy an Iraqi nuclear site in 1981, it "cost him eight years," said Horner. During the Gulf war the allies used 10 times as many bombs against nuclear sites "and probably cost him [Saddam] 9 or 10 years," said Horner. Despite what has been learned since the war about Iraqi nuclear material production capacity, "I just don't think he can build a bomb tomorrow," said the Gulf war air commander. But Horner professed to be at a loss as to how to convince Saddam Hussein to give up his nuclear ambitions. Given that Saddam is obviously willing to subject his country to great hardship to further his own ambitions, "how are you going to hurt him?" asks Horner. During the bombing campaign against Iraq, predictions of large numbers of civilian casualties did change plans for some attacks, Horner said. Biological weapons sites, in particular, were a problem - and plans were carefully laid to strike them with precision weapons at times of the day when the nearby civilian presence would be as small as possible. Horner also admitted that US air forces had some problems with HARM anti-radar missiles locking onto allied radars. In one case, a HARM launched deep inside Iraq turned around and flew all the way back to Saudi Arabia, landing exhausted next to a friendly ground radar. Unlike the coalition forces commander in chief, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who has complained publicly about it, Horner said he was not upset about the quality of intelligence he received during the war. Though there was some problem with timeliness of reports, intelligence officials are often blamed for not having perfect crystal balls, he said.