French Have Flown More Than 1,000 Sorties in Gulf War
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ French aircraft have flown more than 1,000 sorties against Iraq since hostilities began Jan. 17, the commander of the French air force in the Persian Gulf said Saturday.
Also Saturday, Gen. Maurice Schmitt, commander of France’s military, was quoted as saying allied forces likely would face 400,000 Iraqi soldiers - backed by the elite Republican Guard - in a ground war that would last weeks.
In an interview published in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro, Schmitt also said he believed an Iraqi chemical attack was probable, but dismissed the idea of a nuclear attack or germ warfare.
President Francois Mitterrand last week ruled out use of unconventional weapons by France, regardless of what Iraq did.
At the briefing in Riyadh, Gen. Claude Solanet told reporters that about half the French sorties had been combat missions.
French Jaguars carrying out air-to-ground attacks were going mostly against Iraqi airfields and troop concentrations, he said.
Solanet played three videotapes showing the Jaguars taking out hardened aircraft shelters inside Iraq. The videos showed direct hits, but Solanet said he was not sure what was inside.
″We don’t know exactly what was under the shelters,″ he said. ″It was airplanes or Scuds.″
One video showed an automobile desperately trying to make it into the shelter. It did, just before the bomb hit it and blew it to bits.
Asked about the possibility of error and whether the French jets could have accidentally hit civilians during their attacks, Solanet responded, ″absolutely not.″
″Our targets are air fields or things like that. You cannot miss them in the desert. And also, we have good information before taking off about this kind of targets. The selection of the target is visually made first of all, and after that we go to our system.
″It’s impossible to make a mistake of this kind. We respect the rules of engagement. We respect all of the towns and all the shrines,″ Solanet said.
He said the French never attack built-up or residential areas.
″We attack mostly airfields, troops, Republican Guards, and also troops in south Kuwait. We attack ammunition depots and logistic depots.″
The French forces in the gulf region include 27 Jaguar fighter-bombers for air-to-ground attack, 12 Mirage 2000 for air defense, six Mirage F-1CRs working reconnaissance, five tankers and nine C-160 transport aircraft.
Solanet said his pilots are noticing less anti-aircraft fire than in the beginning of the war.
″But it still exists,″ he said. ″And we have been very fortunate until now that we have had nobody shot down.″
Schmitt told Le Figaro the war with Iraq was now in its second phase, ″that of direct neutralization of ground forces ... the phase of attrition,″
He predicted the ground war would last several weeks.
″Don’t forget that we are going to find ourselves confronted with 400,000 combatants,″ he said. ″And behind these 400,000 men will be the Republican Guard, which was placed there in reserve for a counterattack in at least two directions, the road from Kuwait City to Riyadh and the south-east direction leading to the coast.″