Air Force News

General lays blame for civilian casualties on Saddam Hussein

Released: 27 Jan 1999

by Senior Master Sgt. Jim Katzaman
Air Force Print News

WASHINGTON -- If an errant aircraft missile struck a residential area in Iraq, a senior defense official said the blame rests with Saddam Hussein, who continues to threaten coalition forces enforcing the no-fly zones.

Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, commander of U.S. Central Command, said Jan. 25 that bomb damage was still under review, but it was possible that a missile launched from a U.S. fighter missed its intended target.

He said that would be a regrettable cost of combat as coalition aircraft defend themselves from attack by Iraqi ground forces which are often embedded in civilian neighborhoods.

Since the end of Operation Desert Fox in December, Iraqi provocations in both the northern and southern no-fly zones have escalated into a flurry of radar illuminations, aircraft intrusions and missile launches against coalition aircraft.

"This poses a threat to our aircraft, both in the north and the south," Zinni said. "We view this threat as centralized and deliberate, and we view the entire air defense system that's being set against us as the objective in any response that we take. And we will defend our pilots and our aircraft against these attacks."

The general said that since Desert Fox there have been more than 70 no-fly zone violations involving more than 100 Iraqi aircraft. There have also been almost 20 missile launches, anti-aircraft artillery firings and radar illuminations against coalition aircraft.

"We're seeing an increase in frequency, intensity (and) coordination of their entire air defense system against our planes flying in both the north and the south," Zinni said.

He said the number of surface-to-air missile batteries in southern Iraq has increased 300 percent, and they occasionally move throughout the area. Zinni said this "obviously makes it more difficult for our fliers to know where (the missiles) are and where the threat may be posed.

"It's evident to us that this entire system has been centrally controlled and turned on to oppose our enforcement of the no-fly zone sanctions, both north and south."

If anything, the general said, Iraq's air defenses have grown more sophisticated since Desert Fox.

"On several occasions," he said, "we've seen packages of airplanes, two and three per flight coming down in coordinated fashion, working in cooperation with surface-to-air missile batteries, trying to lure us down into what has become known as 'SAMbushes'. We have detected early warning systems, optical guidance means being used obviously to prevent turning on radars, which would make targeting for us much easier."

Zinni said the increased threats against coalition forces stem from the highest levels in Iraq.

"This is orchestrated and obviously part of the declared objective by the Iraqi leaders to violate the no-fly zone sanctions and to shoot down our planes that are patrolling these zones," he said. "We responded within our rules of engagement by defending ourselves and attacking this air defense system."

On the possibility of civilian casualties during an attack against Iraq forces near Basra, Zinni said, "Our targeting and execution of our strikes are done in a manner to minimize any civilian casualties or damage to civilian property.

"No one can guarantee that these strikes will not have errors or that we might not have errant ordnance, but we do take every possible attempt to ensure that that doesn't happen, both in our planning and in the process of our execution.

"We deeply regret any civilian casualties, regardless of what the cause may be, but these exchanges have been initiated by Saddam Hussein," Zinni said. "This has been a deliberate (result) of repeated attacks against our forces."

In the end, the general made three points:

-- "One, we deeply regret any loss of civilian lives or civilian casualties or injuries;

-- "Secondly, we do everything humanly possible to prevent that; and

-- "Thirdly, and most important, the ultimate reason and cause for these casualties is Saddam Hussein.

"His attacks against us and his history of disregard for the welfare of his own people, which manifests itself not only in the humanitarian side but in the direct attacks he's conducted, and the use of human shields and the location of military pieces of equipment in civilian areas," Zinni said, "this has been, I think, well documented ever since Desert Storm and even before."


* Operation Northern Watch
* U.S. Central Command
* U.S. Marine Corps