March 20 —
U.S. forces launched their long-awaited war against Saddam
Hussein, targeting him personally with a barrage of cruise missiles
and bombs as a prelude to invasion. Iraq responded hours later,
firing missiles Thursday toward American troops positioned just
across its border with Kuwait.
None of the Iraqi missiles caused injuries or damage, and one was
intercepted by a Patriot missile, according to U.S. officers.
American and British soldiers in the region briefly donned gas masks
or protective suits, but officers later said the missiles apparently
were not armed with chemical or biological weapons.
Air raid sirens wailed repeatedly in Kuwait City as officials
warned that some Iraqi missiles might be aimed there.
Inside southern Iraq, a helicopter carrying U.S. special forces
crashed hours before the U.S. missile strikes, U.S. officials said.
There were no casualties in the incident.
The opening salvo against Saddam was not the expected all-out
aerial bombardment, but instead a surgical strike seeking to
eliminate the Iraqi leader and his inner circle even before an
invasion. Saddam assailed the attack as a "shameful crime," while
President Bush said the world's security was at stake.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said the U.S.
strikes killed one person, injured several and hit a customs office
and some empty Iraqi TV buildings, among other targets. There was no
way to verify his report.
Coinciding with the strikes on Baghdad, about 1,000 U.S. troops
launched a raid on villages in southeastern Afghanistan, hunting for
members of the al-Qaida terrorist network. The U.S. operation
triggered by radio transmissions interecepted from caves in the
region appeared to signal to Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants
that war with Iraq would not mean any kind of respite for them.
The State Department warned U.S. citizens abroad that they face
increased danger of retaliatory terrorist actions and anti-American
The first missiles hit targets in Baghdad shortly before dawn
Thursday, less than two hours after Bush's deadline of 8 p.m. EST
Wednesday for Saddam to yield power.
Bush briefly addressed the nation to announce that war had begun.
He said the barrage marked the start of a "broad and concerted"
operation to "disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the
world from grave danger."
"I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and
we will accept no outcome but victory," the president said.
U.S. and British troops massed in northern Kuwait were still
awaiting orders to cross into Iraq, but welcomed news of the first
"It's about time," said Lance Cpl. Chad Borgmann, 23, of Sidney,
Neb., a member of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. "We've been
here a month and a week. We're ready to go."
Even before any shooting, 17 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to
American soldiers. U.S. officers said they expected mass surrenders
by Iraqi troops in the early stages of the war.
The initial salvos against Baghdad consisted of 40 Tomahawk
cruise missiles launched from Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and the
Red Sea, as well as precision-guided 2,000-pound bombs dropped from
two F-117A Nighthawk stealth jets.
U.S. officials said the attacks were not a sign that the main air
offensive against Iraq had begun, but were approved by Bush in
response to intelligence on the whereabouts of Saddam and other
About two hours after the cruise missiles hit, a subdued-looking
Saddam appeared on Iraqi television in a military uniform and vowed
an Iraqi victory. There was no way to determine immediately whether
the remarks were taped before the U.S. attacks.
"We promise you that Iraq, its leadership and its people will
stand up to the evil invaders," he said. "They will face a bitter
defeat, God willing."
Hundreds of armed members of Saddam's Baath party and security
forces took up positions in Baghdad after the attack, though the
streets of the capital were mostly empty of civilians. There were no
signs during the day of regular army troops or armor in or outside
Baghdad, where Saddam was widely expected to make his final
Across the United States, the start of war was an emotional
moment for families of U.S. troops.
"I thought I was prepared for this, but I'm really not," said
Suzanne Hoefler of Coronado, Calif., whose husband, Navy Petty
Officer John Hoefler, left in January for the Persian Gulf.
State and local authorities intensified security measures, hoping
to shield power plants, bridges, state capitols and other facilities
against possible retaliatory strikes. In New York City, police
prowled streets with bomb-sniffing dogs, submachine guns and
"There is a two-front war here," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
"One is on the streets of our cities, and one is overseas."
In other nations, reactions varied dramatically. Both Russia and
China demanded an immediate halt to the military action, which
Russian President Vladimir Putin called "a big political mistake."
Religious parties in Pakistan called for a general strike Friday to
protest U.S. policy.
Support for Washington came from allies Britain and Japan, among
others. Australia, which has contributed 2,000 soldiers to the
U.S.-led force, said its warships and fighter jets were involved in
combat support operations Thursday.
The European Union, whose members split over how to force Saddam
to disarm, declared Thursday that the world had entered "a new and
dangerous phase" and expressed deep dismay that diplomacy had failed
to prevent war.
In Israel, civilians began carrying gas masks and air defense
units were placed on highest alert to intercept any incoming Iraqi
|U.S. troops wait in full nuclear
biological and chemical protection suits in a bunker at their
base in the Kuwait desert after a warning of a second scud
missile attack from Iraq March 20, 2003. Iraq fired missiles
at Kuwait, prompting U.S. troops to don chemical protective
suits and setting emergency air raid sirens blaring in Kuwait
City. (AP Photo/MoD POOL)|
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