08 January 1999
(Gulf commander says Iraq needs two years for key repairs) (700) By Jacquelyn S. Porth USIA Security Affairs Writer Washington -- Recent analysis has shown that the U.S.-British "Operation Desert Fox" mission against Iraq's military infrastructure in December was so effective that the time estimate for repair has now been increased from one to two years, says the U.S. military commander responsible for the Gulf region. U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni told reporters at the Pentagon January 8 that this revised estimate is based on recent analysis showing that Iraq failed to disperse key assets during the first night of air strikes on December 16. Some of Iraq's "one of a kind" equipment -- needed to support Iraqi efforts to pursue weapons of mass destruction -- was destroyed in the initial phase of the air campaign, he said. This included test equipment required for Iraq's missile development program. Zinni, who commands the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) -- with operational jurisdiction over the southern no-fly zone below the 33rd parallel -- said structural damage to Iraqi military-related buildings "was far more severe" than originally thought, and in some cases, critical structures were rendered "beyond repair." He also said members of Iraq's senior military leadership, including those belonging to the elite Republican Guard and Saddam Hussein's special security apparatus, were casualties during the 70-hour strike at year's end. Additionally, Iraqi military assets targeted during "Desert Fox," including military headquarters, command-and-control structures, and offensive equipment, were diminished greatly. Iraqi military communications problems have been exacerbated, Zinni noted, because communications nodes and equipment were destroyed. In detailing U.S. bomb damage assessments to date, the commander said 85 percent of the 100 targets struck were "damaged significantly." In some cases, targets were selected because they were test facilities or wind tunnels needed to bolster some aspect of Iraq's quest for weapons of mass destruction. Zinni went on to say that it appears that Saddam Hussein's "regime was shaken" by "Desert Fox" as evidenced by a series of civilian and military executions which have been reported inside Iraq in recent weeks. He also pointed to the Iraqi president's January 5 Army Day speech, in which he sought to incite unrest against a variety of Arab leaders, as additional evidence of the degree of desperation which Saddam Hussein is experiencing. "To us, that speech was shocking," Zinni added. Asked if Saddam Hussein's increasing political isolation might prompt him to lash out in a militarily irrational way, Zinni said, "He is capable of not only doing things irrational(ly), but miscalculating." The U.S. military official said the Iraqi leader "obviously doesn't value the lives of his own troops...and...doesn't care about his own people. So someone with that attitude and that track record" is dangerous, he added. U.S. military forces are ready, should Iraq make a move toward Kuwait, as it has done in the past, Zinni said. "We are obviously committed to the defense of Kuwait," he noted. Additionally, the CENTCOM official said his forces are prepared if Iraq launches a concealed Scud missile. Zinni also announced that he has requested eight more F-16C/J aircraft and four additional aerial refueling tanker aircraft. This will ensure "a robust capability" in the southern no-fly zone allowing U.S. aircraft "to stay up longer and react," he said. The official said U.S. forces have adjusted their military tactics and procedures in the no-fly zone because it is clear Iraq is seeking to lure coalition pilots "into a possible shoot-down situation." Asked about reported damage to civilian facilities in Iraq during "Desert Fox," Zinni said that although the Iraqi regime has made such claims, it has denied requests by United Nations entities to view such sites. Efforts by both U.N. officials and members of the media to view collateral damage have been thwarted, he said. Not only are Iraqi allegations unsubstantiated by independent "eyes on site," Zinni said, but U.S. intelligence data fails to support the claims.