Inside the Ring

Article excerpt


A month has passed since Operation Desert Fox, the 70-hour U.S. and British bombing of Iraq. It was the largest raid against Saddam Hussein since the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

What prompted the raid was Iraq's refusal to allow U.N. inspectors to go about their job of removing weapons of mass destruction from the country.

When the rubble stopped bouncing, the Pentagon declared the raid a "74 percent" success in "degrading" Saddam Hussein's far-flung terror weapons industry.

But Desert Fox produced other results, said Tony Cordesman, a top military expert.

"We demonstrated we could strike the regime and not the people and do so with great success," said the senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That came as a "real shock" to Iraq's leadership, he said.

"We showed we could strike anywhere at anytime" and "we showed that we placed a minimal burden, in political terms, on our [Persian Gulf] allies and [could] operate with considerable independence."

That last item is important because not every country in the Persian Gulf that hosts the U.S. military, like Saudi Arabia, allowed American forces there to participate in Desert Fox. Some believed the United States would be unable to launch an effective strike without using all its forces in the region.

But in contrast to Pentagon self-congratulation over Desert Fox, Mr. Cordesman offered a more sober analysis of the bombing results.

First, he summed up his analysis: "What we did not do is materially change the military situation or the threat."

Then, he dissected Desert Fox in detail.

Mr. Cordesman, who served as defense adviser to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, examined the damage done to Iraq's air defense network. The Pentagon claimed that of 35 such targets, 22 were hit and 16 of those were fully damaged.

"We did indeed hit certain critical aspects of their air defense system that are hard to replace," said Mr. Cordesman. "These include some command-and-control facilities" and at least one surface-to-air missile repair shop. "In that sense there is an accomplishment. In practice, however, 95 to 97 percent of [Iraq's air defense system] survived."

He estimates that Iraq possesses over 100 surface-to-air missile sites and many hundreds of missiles. Such vast missile networks are hard to eliminate, he said. "You suppress air defenses, you do not kill them."

Next he examined another key target of the raids: Iraq's "Republican Guard," which helps Saddam Hussein maintain internal security. …