March 21, 2003, 3:27 PM EST (AP)
ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK # The U.S. Navy launched about 320 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Iraq from ships in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, senior officers said Friday.
“We have just begun the next phase of attacks in Iraq,” said Rear Adm. Matthew G. Moffit, commander of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk battle group in the north Persian Gulf.
“The intention is to convince the regime that it is time to leave, and if they don’t we will try to take them out by force,” Moffit told reporters about 40 minutes after the first missiles were fired.
“Tomahawk land attack missiles have been fired and are currently in the air,” Moffit said at about 8:40 p.m. local time. “Approximately 320 missiles have been fired at targets in and around Baghdad.”
The Kitty Hawk was one of two carriers in the north Persian Gulf to take part in Friday night’s assault.
The missiles were all timed to land at 9 p.m. (1 p.m. EST), the start of an assault Moffit said would be more powerful than anything during the 1991 Gulf War.
The radar-dodging Tomahawks were fired from the guided missile cruisers USS Cowpens, USS Bunker Hill, USS Shiloh, USS Mobile Bay, the destroyers USS John S. McCain, USS Higgins, USS Oscar Austin and USS Milius; and two submarines USS Colombia and USS Montpellier.
Capt. Patrick Driscoll, commander of air strike force aboard the Kitty Hawk, said two radar-jamming EA-6B Prowlers were launched to support bombers aiming for targets over Baghdad.
About one hour later, F/A-18 Hornet and F-14 Tomcat fighters loaded with 500-pound, 1,000-pound and 2,000-pound bombs fitted with laser and global position system guidance systems roared off the Kitty Hawk’s flight deck to support ground troops in southern Iraq.
Driscoll said the fighters would provide close air support for Marines north and south of the city of Basra and the al-Faw Peninsula and the Army’s V Corps in the vicinity of Az Zubayr.
Targets for the fighters’ bombs would be “leadership and command and control,” Driscoll said.
“We’re engaged in battles all over Iraq this evening,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll, who flew combat missions during the Gulf War, said Friday night’s assault was far beyond anything launched in 1991.
“Desert Storm One was a large armada of aircraft, with (Tomahawks) as well, but this is on a magnitude of three times that with the amount of firepower and weapons going down range,” he said.