U.S. army launches war against Iraq: Bush says world security is at stake
U.S. President Bush is shown through a window in the Oval office Wednesday as he makes his short speech to the nation. (AP/Rick Bowmer)

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. forces launched their long-awaited war against Iraqi President 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 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.

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 U.S. President George W. Bush said the world's security was at stake.

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 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 violence.

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 strikes.

"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 Iraqi leaders.

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."

Shortly before dawn, air sirens blared in Baghdad, while yellow and white anti-aircraft tracers streaked through the sky. Several explosions could be heard, and an Iraqi Information Ministry official, Odai al-Ta'ai, said later that several people were injured in raids on the capital's southern outskirts. There was no way to verify the report.

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 stand.

Bahrain, a small Persian Gulf state allied with the United States, offered Saddam a haven Wednesday, the first such offer to be publicly extended to him. There was no immediate Iraqi comment on the offer.

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.

In other countries, reactions varied dramatically. Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, called the military action "unjustifiable and illegitimate," and China demanded a halt to the attack. 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.

Israeli civilians began carrying gas masks to protect them from a possible retaliatory Iraqi attack.

In southeastern Afghanistan, helicopters ferried troops from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division to a remote, mountainous area as the hunt for bin Laden and his terror network intensified. U.S. military officials in Washington said radio transmissions had been detected coming from caves above the villages.

© The Canadian Press, 2003

1,000 U.S. troops raid Afghan villages in hunt for al-Qaida

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) - About 1,000 U.S. troops launched a raid on villages in southeastern Afghanistan on Thursday, hunting for members of the al-Qaida terrorist network in the biggest U.S. operation in just over a year, military officials said.

Helicopters ferried troops from the army's 82nd Airborne Division to the remote, mountainous area as the hunt for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and his terror network intensified, U.S. military officials in Washington said.

Military officials in Afghanistan confirmed the operation was underway but would provide no details.

"I do not have anything to say about the Kandahar operation at this time," said Col. Roger King, U.S. army spokesman at the U.S. headquarters at Bagram.

The troops left from their base in Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

Radio transmissions had been detected coming from caves above the villages, said military officials in Washington .

It was the largest U.S. military operation in Afghanistan since Operation Anaconda just over a year ago. That eight-day battle involved hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters against thousands of U.S. and allied Afghan troops.

There have been a series of raids on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the weeks since authorities captured al-Qaida's No. 3 figure, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in Pakistan on March 1. Authorities have said Mohammed is giving information to U.S. interrogators and have said some of the subsequent arrests came as a result of Mohammed's capture.

Mohammed, an alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, is being interrogated by U.S. officials at an undisclosed location.

The agents who captured him in a suburb of Islamabad found computers, mobile telephones, documents and other evidence that could help lead to other al-Qaida members.

There have been increased attacks on Afghan government posts in southern Afghanistan in recent weeks. The authorities have blamed remnants of Taliban, al-Qaida and loyalists of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a renegade rebel commander labeled a terrorist by the United States.

© The Canadian Press, 2003