Allied forces captured the first Iraqi prisoners of the Persian Gulf war during an assault on offshore anti-aircraft batteries, the military said Saturday. The pace of the air war was furious, if one-sided.
Overall, the Pentagon said the Desert Storm war was "going quite well" at the three-day mark, but there was no claim that the air force and missile threat from Iraq had disappeared."They haven't bearded us yet," Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly said, describing the lack of challenge from Iraqi aircraft. Kelly said the score in dogfights was allies 10, Iraqis 0.
However, the United States has lost five planes from hostile ground fire and one from other causes. Nine Americans were reported missing.
At a briefing in Washington, Kelly said the Pentagon believed Iraq had sent many of its 700 military planes to the north. U.S. planes began a fresh campaign in that direction, perhaps including jets that were seen taking off from NATO bases in Turkey.
Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said the United States and its allies had flown more than 4,700 missions through the first three days - as many on day three as on days one and two combined. In addition, the Navy had launched more than 100 Tomahawk missiles in 24 hours, for a total of 216 since the fighting began.
Williams wouldn't try to estimate damage from all those missions, saying that poor weather conditions inhibited reconnaisance.
The U.S. forces said they captured 12 prisoners, and Maj. Gen. Robert Johnston described them as the first Iraqi POWs of the war. Iraq has claimed it has captured American pilots who were shot down in bombing runs, but Kelly said the Pentagon knew of no Americans taken captive.
In a reference to the Iraqi missiles that have been fired into Israeli cities, Kelly said, "We have Scud watches going on and we think eventually we will be successful in reducing the Scud threat." He noted that Iraq fired eight Scuds on Friday and three on Saturday, indicating some success at knocking out missile units.
He said allied air bombers also were going after Iraq's Republican Guard, the elite troops in occupied Kuwait. "We're trying to hammer them just as hard as we can," he said, without giving any casualty count.
The Iraqi POWs were taken Friday evening by U.S. and Kuwaiti forces. The captives were Iraqi gunners who had fired on allied planes with anti-aircraft artillery and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, Marine Gen. Johnston said.
"We've eliminated that surface-to-air threat," Johnston said at a news briefing at Central Command in Riyadh. He said no Americans were killed or wounded in the mission. He said he didn't know if there were Iraqi casualties.
The military said Friday night's raid on nine offshore oil platforms in the northern Persian Gulf involved a U.S. guided missile frigate, Army -heli-copters and a Kuwaiti patrol boat.
The prisoners were brought aboard the USS Nicholas and the Kuwaiti patrol boat. A U.S. statement said the POWs "will be transferred to a U.S. Marine holding facility and eventually transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp."
Johnston said prisoner camps would be overseen by the Saudi Arabian government. Britain said earlier in the week that it was sending its elite Coldstream Guards to Saudi Arabia to administer POW camps.