Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Impending US Airstrike Calls Casualties into Question

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Impending US Airstrike Calls Casualties into Question

Article excerpt

As the United States prepares for what seems an imminent airstrike against Saddam Hussein, the question once again arises, how many Iraqi lives will be lost?

While military analysts say it's incredibly difficult to estimate casualties, they add the numbers depend on the breadth of the strike and who is the target.

The most recent figures released by White House officials say between "several thousand" and 10,000 Iraqis could have died in last month's aborted air raids - a figure that perplexed military commanders and analysts. "I would be extremely shocked if we were going for targets where we knew that kind of potential for damage existed," says retired Air Force Col. Bill Hoge, who worked for the command responsible for US air operations in the Middle East. The large casualty estimates, even with a sustained bombardment, are out of sync with the tactics and philosophies of a precision- strike military, Colonel Hoge says, and perhaps beyond the scope of the force currently arrayed against Saddam. The United States was on the verge of striking Iraq Nov. 14 before Saddam agreed to allow United Nations weapons inspections to resume in his country. With a fleet of strike aircraft ringing Iraq, the US prepared to punish the recalcitrant dictator by launching a short- duration air campaign. John Warden, a retired Air Force colonel who conceived of the wide-ranging air attacks during Desert Storm, says he too had difficulty believing the numbers. Sending a powerful message to Saddam could be easily achieved by killing, at most, several hundred Iraqis, Colonel Warden says. With smart bombs and cruise missiles, the US could greatly harm Iraq's military and weapons sites. "In today's world, how many people need to die in order to accomplish your political objectives?" Warden asks. "The answer is pretty darn few." Since Desert Storm, United States military planners have made reducing military and civilian casualties a top priority in operations around the world. During the Balkans air campaign of 1995, for example, NATO jets took extreme care in striking Bosnian Serb military targets. …

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