In response to Saddam Hussein's continued refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, the United States Government planned Operation DESERT FOX in the fall of 1998. The primary mission of DESERT FOX was to strike military targets in Iraq that contributed to its ability to produce, store, maintain, and deliver weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The U.S. government expected to achieve several goals with the operation. First, it would degrade Iraq's ability to create and employ WMD. Second, the attacks would diminish Iraq's capability to wage war against its neighbors. Third, the operation would impress upon Saddam Hussein the consequences of violating international agreements, including allowing United Nations inspectors unfettered access to Iraqi sites. The United States and Great Britain launched Operation DESERT FOX on December 16, 1998, after U.N. Chief Inspector Richard Butler notified the U.N. that Iraq had failed to provide full cooperation during inspections.
With nearly 200 U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy carrier-based aircraft, as well as one dozen British aircraft, planners identified nearly 100 targets in seven categories: air defense systems, command and control, WMD security, WMD industry and production, Republican Guard units, airfields, and "economic" targets. The initial strikes consisted of approximately 250 Tomahawk cruise missiles as well as 40 sorties launched from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. On the second night, Air Force B-52s stationed on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean employed air launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), while the B-1 bomber made its combat debut by striking at Republican Guard targets. Also on December 17, USAF aircraft based in Kuwait participated, as did British Tornado aircraft. The British contribution totaled 15 percent of the sorties flown in DESERT FOX.
By December 19, U.S. and British aircraft had struck 97 targets, and Secretary of Defense William Cohen claimed the operation was a success. Supported by Secretary Cohen, as well as United States Central Command commander General Anthony C. Zinni and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry H. Shelton, President Bill Clinton declared "victory" in Operation DESERT FOX. In total, the 70-hour campaign saw U.S. forces strike 85 percent of their targets, 75 percent of which were considered "highly effective" strikes. More than 600 sorties were flown by more than 300 combat and support aircraft, and 600 air dropped munitions were employed, including 90 air launched cruise missiles and 325 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAM). Operation DESERT FOX inflicted serious damage to Iraq's missile development program, although its effects on any WMD program were not clear. Nevertheless, Operation DESERT FOX was the largest strike against Iraq since the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War, until the commencement of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.
Capt Gregory Ball, USAFR, Ph.D.