WASHINGTON -- U.S.-led aircraft, with Kuwaiti planes taking part in the effort to liberate their nation, attacked Iraqi targets in both Iraq and Kuwait Wednesday night in a massive air campaign intended to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and destroy his chemical and nuclear capabilities.
There was no immediate word on U.S. or allied casualties or whether any aircraft were lost in the raids against a variety of targets, but Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said that 'preliminary reports we have received confirms the success of the operation and that includes the possibiity of casualties. It's very very encouraging. The operation appears to have gone very well.'
'The preliminary reports are very positive,' added Cheney.
And Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that 'the response of the Iraqi forces has been limited.'
The raids of what has now become Operation Desert Storm -- launched from Saudi Arabia and from two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf -- were aimed at cutting off Saddam's ability to communicate with his forces and at eliminating his chemical weapons capability and nuclear facilities believed on the verge of being able to assemble a crude nuclear device.
Neither leader, appearing in a packed Pentagon briefing room, would provide a detailed look at specifics of the operation that was just 2 - hours old when they started, other than to say that hundreds of flights of allied aircraft were involved.
Planes from the United States, England, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait took part in the raids, with F-15E 'Strike Eagle' night fighters thundering off a central Saudi air base. Kuwait's air force managed to get several of their planes out of the country as Iraqi troops moved in Aug. 2.
While no details on specific targets was provided, they included anti-aircraft radar and missile sites, command and communcation facilities and Iraq's chemical and nuclear facilities. Chemical and nuclear facilities in Iraq are located in and near the towns of Basra, Samarra, Bayji, Irbil and Mosol.
In addition to targets around Baghdad, the warplanes were believed to have attacked a Scud missile site in western Iraq that threatened Israel.
Cheney said he believed reports of Scud missile launches were 'false reports.'
The operation -- involving some of the most high technology weaponry on Earth -- is expected to run for some time, and neither Powell nor Cheney would speculate about whether ground forces would be called in.
Iraq has roughly 540,000 troops in the desert theatre and 4,200 tanks. Allied forces totaled 690,000 with more than 100 ships, including six aircraft carriers and 1,800 fixed-wing aircraft.
Officials promised more specific briefings for reporters after pilots in the early waves of attacking planes were debriefed.
Cheney said he signed the order setting the attack in motion on Tuesday afternoon but made it subject to the conditions that Congress be notified in advance and that there were no diplomatic moves under way that might have held the hope of peace.
He said the United States 'had hoped to settle this matter peacefully' and the decision to go to war was an 'agonizing' one for President Bush.
'No one should doubt our ability and our resolve to carry out our mission and achieve our objectives,' said Cheney, who said Iraq's capabilities threaten allied forces in the region.
The attack, at 7 p.m. Eastern time, occurred at 3 a.m. Saudi time at a period when there was no moon, prime hours for U.S. aircraft equipped with night-fighting capability.
Powell and Cheney said the U.S. aircraft came from all services and President Bush, in his address, said the targets included Iraqi tanks, suggesting that Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts and Army AH-64 Apache tank killers were involved.
In addition to F-15Es, the raid was understood to include drone sea- launched Tomahawk cruise missiles fired off the battleships Wisconsin and Missouri in the Persian Gulf. And it was likely the attack included raids by Navy A-6 Intruder bombers. The British have the Tornado fighter and bomber in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis fly U.S.-built F-15s and the Tornado.
And the F-117A stealth fighter, actually a bomber, was a likely participant in the raids because with drones and other planes drawing Iraqi fire, their anti-radar capabilty would allow them to slip in undetected and attack key sites. Over 40 of the planes are in Saudi Arabia.
From the front, pool reporters with Air Force units reported back that security was tight at the base where many people were asleep when the first aircraft were launched. Some were awakened by the continuous thunder of the takeoffs and a few ventured from their tents and clustered outside chatting quietly.
'The object was to achieve the ultimate surprise that we could,' said one official.
In the first wave was Col. David Everley, the operations officer of the wing. His flight was due back before dawn, and a second wing took off a short time after Everley's flight roared off.
Master Sgt. Russell Naughton, 39, of Worchester, Mass., was on the flight line as the first plane taxied to its takeoff position.
'It looks great,' he said. 'It has been almost six months that we've been in the desert. I don't like war but we were forced.'
Asked about the mood of the pilots, the Vietnam veteran said they were 'not excited, just quiet.'
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, head of the operation, issued a statement to his troops declaring, 'During my visits with you, I have seen in your eyes a fire of determination to get this job done quickly so that we all may return to the shores of our great nation. My confidence in you is total. Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.'