Operation DESERT FOX

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

Operation DESERT FOX was a four-day U.S. and British air campaign against Iraq in 1998, beginning on December 16, ordered by President Bill Clinton. It was intended to punish Saddam Hussein for noncooperation with the United Nations Special Commission search for weapons of mass destruction. A previous strike, with bombers in the air, had been called off on November 14 when Saddam agreed to let UN inspectors return, but he later refused. [1] It was executed under the control of United States Central Command, then under GEN Anthony Zinni.

Various reasons were given, especially since impeachment proceedings were near against Clinton. A novel and film, Wag the Dog, was a thinly disguised parallel of a President who initiates military action to draw attention away from domestic problems. Military reporter Thomas Ricks described it as "the most intensive enforcement of the containment policy that occurred in the entire twelve-year period between the 1991 war and the 2003 invasion."[2]


From a pure military standpoint, it was quite efficient. It began with a large strike by BGM-109 Tomahawk ship-launched and AGM-86 ALCM air-launched cruise missiles, United States Navy and U.S. Marine Corps aircraft flying from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65), ; United States Air Force and Royal Air Force aircraft operating from land bases. It involved the first combat use of B-1 Lancer heavy bombers. By the second day, 27 surface-to-air missile sites, 18 command and control facilities, 19 sites of the security organization of Saddam Hussein, 11 WMD industrial and production facilities, eight Republican Guard facilities, and five airfields had been hit.


The operation hit the designated targets, but its effects are controversial. An editorial in the Boston Globe said

Strategically, the military campaign was a blunder and sowed the seeds of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Unintentionally, the 1998 attack splintered the coalition that President George H. W. Bush painstakingly assembled in 1990 during the lead-up to the 1991 Gulf War. Neither Clinton nor his successor President George W. Bush was able to reunite this large group of nations dedicated to stopping Hussein from getting weapons of mass destruction...Another unintended consequence was that the United States lost practically all credible intelligence about Iraqi WMD-related activities. UN inspectors were shut out of Iraq until late 2002, when George W. Bush formed a much weaker coalition.[3]

A very different view was that

Desert Fox actually exceeded expectations. Saddam panicked during the strikes. Fearing that his control was threatened, he ordered large-scale arrests and executions, which backfired and destabilized his regime for months afterwards.[4]

Zinni saw it as a complex situations. He did receive intelligence reports that it had, indeed, destabilized Saddam, and Arab allies asked what the U.S. would do if Saddam fell?

This is what I heard from our Arab friends out there — you almost caused an implosion. And that worried them. An implosion is going to cause chaos. And you're going to have to go in after an implosion. The question is, do you have a plan?[5]

According to Zinni, the major concerns of allies is if they would face floods of refugees, and what would Iran do? He conducted war games and realized there could be major problems, and started planning for a major humanitarian effort. He was not, however, able to get widespread government interest.

Other critics, such as Danielle Pletka and Richard Perle, said the Clinton Administration was risk-averse and, in Pletka's words, "Desert Fox was a sham".

Some effects were not known until much later. David Kay, who led a U.S. weapons of mass destruction search of Iraq after the fall of Saddam, said that research had continued, but "Multiple sources with varied access and reliability have told ISG that Iraq did not have a large, ongoing, centrally controlled CW program after 1991.

Information found to date suggests that Iraq's large-scale capability to develop, produce, and fill new (chemical weapon} munitions was reduced -- if not entirely destroyed -- during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of UN sanctions and UN inspections. We are carefully examining dual-use, commercial chemical facilities to determine whether these were used or planned as alternative production sites."[6]


  1. Chronology from DESERT STORM to DESERT FOX, U.S. Department of Defense
  2. Thomas E. Ricks (2006), FIASCO: the American Military Adventure in Iraq, Penguin, ISBN 159320103X, p. 19
  3. Charles D. Ferguson (February 14, 2006), "Lessons of Desert Fox", Boston Globe
  4. Kenneth Pollack, The Threatening Storm: the Case for Invading Iraq, 2002, quoted by Ricks, p. 19.
  5. Ricks, p. 20
  6. David Kay (2 October 2003), "Report on the activities of the Iraq Survey Group to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Defense and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence", CNN