U.S. Military Promises No Letup Despite Iraqi Peace Bid
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ U.S. military officials promised no letup in the war to drive Iraq from Kuwait despite Iraq’s peace proposal on Friday.
″Until we’re notified by higher authority, we’re going to continue to execute our mission,″ Marine Brig. Gen. Richard Neal, a senior spokesman for the U.S. Central Cokmmand headquarters, told an afternoon news briefing.
Neal said a brief surge of optimism in the underground ″war room″ dissipated after it became clear that Saddam Hussein’s offer was loaded with conditions unacceptable to the United States and its allies.
Neal said Iraq must formally announce its withdrawal from Kuwait before the U.S.-led coalition would begin withdrawing troops.
No such Iraqi move has been detected, senior U.S. military sources said, shortly after the Iraqi proposal was broadcast over Baghdad radio and the official Iraqi news agency.
But the sources also said there was no sign that Saddam’s latest maneuver reflected a crumbling of will to resist the allied air offensive.
Despite evidence that allied air strikes have destroyed 30 percent of Saddam’s tanks and artillery and one-fourth of his armored vehicles in the Kuwaiti theater of operations, ″he still has a very robust military capability,″ said one of the sources.
″If we stopped the war tomorrow he’d still be a force to be reckoned with,″ said the source.
Asked if coalition forces would attack Iraqi troops who appeared to be withdrawing, Neal said: ″Until our mission has been changed by the national command authority, we’re going to execute our plan to the letter.″
He said that perhaps the only way the Iraqis could save themselves from being killed was to surrender ″in droves.″ But he acknowledged that defectors would still face minefields between them and the Saudi border, and Iraqi execution squads hunting down deserters in the rear.
Overnight, eight Iraqis surrendered to U.S. forces, 30 to Egyptians and three to Saudi troops, spokesmen said.
More than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers have surrendered since the war began on Jan. 17.
Neal said a study of Iraqi prisoners showed most were low-ranking soldiers who served in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. ″They are extremely tired of war, for obvious reasons,″ he said.
He said 60 percent of the POWs had deserted or surrendered willingly. Forty percent surrendered under fire.
He said an A-6E Intruder bomber crash-landed on the deck of the carrier USS America and was pushed over the side, but both crewmen survived with minor injuries.
In a first-of-its-kind incident, an Air Force F-15E looking for Iraqi Scud missile launchers spotted a hovering helicopter and destroyed it with a laser- guided bomb, Neal said.
That raised the allies’ count of Iraq’s air-to-air combat losses to 41 - 36 planes and five helicopters.