U.S., U.K. Jets Bomb Iraqi Targets

ByABC News

Feb. 17, 2001 -- Iraqi officials said today they will fight "in the air, on land and sea" in retaliation for an air attack on the outskirts of Iraq's capital Friday.

Ten years after the Persian Gulf War, 24 aircraft, comprised of Air Force F-15s, Navy F-18s and four British Tornadoes U.S. and British warplanes bombed communication targets outside Baghdad.

The strike was aimed at destroying more than 20 radar and the fiber-optic links that U.S. officials say have drastically improved Iraq's ability to track and target American planes.

deployed their bombs and Iraqi air defenses started firing.

Downtown Baghdad was not hit, U.S. officials insist, but five target areas in the suburbs were.

Iraqi authorities reported that two civilians were killed and more than 20 others were wounded during the airstrikes, including an 18-year-old woman, and a man in his 30s.

Iraq Vows Revenge, Says National Press

The government-controlled media lashed out against the U.S. and Britain today for the attack.

Iraqi television broadcast an official statement sayingplanes had struck targets on the outskirts of Baghdad. "We will fight them in the air, on land and sea and their aggression will achieve nothing but failure," it said.

Thestatement also blamed Kuwait and Saudi Arabia which haveprovided bases for coalition forces in the region.

In the Qadissiya newspaper, President George W. Bush the "son of thesnake," referring to his father President George Bush who led the Gulf War against Iraq in 1991.

"The Americans' and Britons' new, savage crime will not passunpunished and without decisive retaliation," the paper said in a front-page editorial. "We will teach the new American administration and the Zionist entity (Israel) lessons on Jihad (holy war) andsteadfastness."

Although the United States said their planes attacked the radar systems near the capital city, Qadissiya said that the Western-led attacks targets were to civilians.

The government-sponsored newspaper al-Jumhouriya called the attack a "cowardly act" and "another failing action by the tyrantrulers of the criminal American administration."

U.S. Military Lashes Back

But after Iraqi television reports of the attacks, the Pentagon insisted its targets, in five areas 5 to 20 miles from Baghdad, were selected to avoid civilian casualties.

"Each one of them is in the middle of an unoccupied area and were picked for that reason," Newbold said.

He added that there was no indication that any strikes missed their targets. "All indications we have is that the strikes were conducted efficiently and effectively," he said.

The coalition says its aircraft never targets civilian populations or civilian infrastructure and go to painstaking lengths to avoid injury to civilians and damage to civilian facilities

However, the Pentagon did reveal that they used "standoff precision munitions" in the attack — bombs that could be launched from more than 40 miles away.

These weapons are safer for the pilots, and were all launched while the jets were still south of the 33rd parallel, the northern boundary of the southern no-fly-zone.

The attack lasted approximately 2 1/2 hours and all targets were north of the 33 parallel, the Pentagon said.

An Increased Threat

Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold told a news conference at the Pentagon that the Iraqis had been were "increasing both their frequency and the sophistication of their operations."

Some of the radar sites hit were said to be able to detect aircraft within 200 miles of Baghdad, an area that reaches across the no-fly-zone into the Persian Gulf.

"It was obvious to us that on nearly a daily basis they were posing an increased risk," Newbold said. "They were getting closer and closer to our aircraft."

There has been an increase in Iraqi radar locking onto U.S. and British aircraft in the southern no-fly-zone, the Pentagon has said. A radar lock tells U.S. and British pilots they have been identified and could be fired upon.

In addition, Iraqi anti-aircraft missile attempts on American planes in the no-fly zones have risen dramatically. There have been more than a dozen surface-to-air missile firings since the beginning of the year, the Pentagon says. Previously, there were only one or two a month.

The attack took place at approximately 12:15 p.m. ET, which is 8:15 p.m. local time, when Baghdad residents were observing the Muslim sabbath.

A Family Legacy

President Bush gave final approval for the airstrike, the first major international action of his administration on Thursday.

Eighteen hours later, American fighter jets were joining British forces in the skies over Iraq.

Friday's attack was the most aggressive action by coalition forces outside the southern no-fly-zone since U.S. and British planes staged a four-day air campaign against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998.

The last time coalition forces attacked Baghdad was in October 1999, when a strike was launched from the northern no-fly-zone.

But the Pentagon insists the initiative for the airstrike did not come from the White House.

"I can tell you with a certainty that this was a military operation emanating out of the forces that fly the mission on a daily basis," he said.

On Friday, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, traveling with Bush in Mexico, said he called the strike "routine."

Later, Bush told reporters that Saddam "has to understand" the United States expects him to abide by the agreements he signed after the Gulf War.

Bush has voiced a marked amount of rhetoric regarding Iraq since taking office last month. He has said he will exert some "American muscle" in the area.

Bush's father was president during the Gulf War, which was fought over Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Led by U.S. forces, a coalition of nations launched an air attack on Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991. The ground war started Feb. 24, and the Iraqi army was quickly routed. The elder Bush ordered a cease-fire on Feb. 27.

American and British planes have been patrolling the skies over the northern and southern portions of Iraq since the end of the Gulf War to prevent Iraqi aircraft from attacking their own citizens.

A Bounty on Their Heads

Saddam has since put a bounty on American aircraft, offering to make any Iraqi soldier who shoots one down a rich man.

But all coalition planes returned safely on Friday.

In addition to the strike package put into the air, 36 additional aircraft were also involved in the operation, to perform such functions as electronic jamming countermeasures, suppression air defense, and command and control.

Pentagon officials would only say the jets flew from "various locations in the Persian Gulf," from both land- and sea-based operations, including the U.S. aircraft carrier in the region, the USS Harry S. Truman.

The coalition jets did face opposition in the form of anti-aircraft fire and ballistic anti-aircraft missiles, the Pentagon said.

But another operation would not be needed soon, said the Pentagon. It said the operation appeared to have been successful.

ABCNEWS’ John McWethy and Barbara Starr at the Pentagon and Terry Moran and Josh Gerstein, traveling with President Bush in Mexico, contributed to this report.