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Iraqi forces suffer 'serious' damage

By
MIKE BILLINGTON

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 -- U.S. and British forces have hit more than 90 targets in Iraq as part of the fourth day of Operation Desert Fox, and senior Pentagon officials said intelligence photos have shown that most are seriously damaged and several have been destroyed. Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today that allied air forces flew 150 sorties over Iraq Friday night. He said U.S. forces have also fired more cruise missiles at Iraqi targets, bringing the total number fired to more than 300. Defense Secretary William Cohen, while saying he did not wish to overstate or exaggerate the damage done by the airstrikes, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that the Iraqi air defense system, President Saddam Hussein's command and control system and other targets have suffered 'substantial, significant damage.' He said Saddam's security forces and the facilities he has used to hide his chemical and biological weapons have been especially hard-hit. Allied bombers have also struck Iraq's industrial base, its military infrastructure, airfields and refineries. Cohen said, 'Our strikes have substantially degraded Saddam's warfighting abilities. For example, we estimate that his missile program has been set back at least a year.' Cohen reacted somewhat defensively to reports that the U.S.-led bombing campaign has had only so-so results. He called that a misinterpretation of comments made by military analysts who said Friday that some buildings had suffered only light or moderate damage after being struck by bombs and missiles.

Cohen said: 'When we talk about moderate damage inflicted, let me say that the early reports after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City described the damage as moderate. But we all understand how much damage was done to that building. It was functionally destroyed.' Shelton and Cohen both said that bomb damage analysts are 'conservative' when they make their early assessments. Cohen said U.S. and British forces have refrained from hitting so- called 'dual-use' facilities such as pharmaceutical firms that may also be used to produce chemical or biological weapons because they do not want to cause undue casualties among Iraqi citizens. Rear Adm. Thomas Wilson, the intelligence chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said allied bombers have hit 32 air defense sites, damaging or destroying 14. Assessments of the damage are still being compiled on the other 18, he said. Wilson also said a total of 20 command and control centers have been hit as have 18 barracks housing the so-called Special Republican Guards who provide security for chemical and biological weapons sites. Another nine barracks housing regular Republican Guards have also been bombed. Allied forces have destroyed a number of Iraqi attack helicopters and damaged six military airfields. Parts of an oil refinery in Basra have also been bombed. ---NEWLN:Copyright 1998 by United Press InternationalNEWLN:All rights reservedNEWLN:---

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