The U.S. military said Monday an attack by American warplanes apparently has halted Iraq's dumping of oil into the Persian Gulf. Iraq maintained an allied attack created a separate spill.
Army Brig. Gen. Pat Stevens told reporters the extent of the oil spill - estimated by the Saudi government at 460 million gallons - remains unclear. But, he said, "It appears we have stopped the flow of oil."At a separate briefing, a Saudi military spokesman, Col. Ahmed al Robayan, said the oil spill fire was "getting smaller and smaller." He said that may mean the U.S. air raid knocked out the pumps feeding the oil spill.
Stevens also said 69 Iraqi aircraft have flown to Iran, including 39 fighters and bombers (see A2). He added: "I'm not disappointed to see them flee into Iran because once there they are no longer a threat to us."
Iraq has an estimated 700 combat aircraft, and Saddam Hussein has largely kept them out of the air since the allied assault began. The allies say Iraq has lost 49 aircraft during the war, including 22 that have been shot down.
Although Iran has said it would confiscate the planes for the duration of the war, U.S. officials have said they have to consider the possibility the planes were going to Iran to shield them from attack.
"We would be absolutely not worth our salt as military people if we ignored the fact that those planes could fly back out of Iran after us," Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf said on Sunday.
The Baghdad government said a U.S.-led attack on Kuwait on Sunday started a fire and spilled oil into the gulf. Allied warplanes attacked the pumping stations in Kuwait on Saturday, and Stevens said nothing about a second attack on the facilities Sunday.
The Saudi News Agency reported Saudi Oil Minister Hisham Nazer told the Saudi Cabinet Monday that the oil flow of apparently has been halted. He said some 10 million barrels (460 million gallons) had been spilled.
Schwarzkopf told reporters in Riyadh on Sunday that there was no indication allied bombing raids caused the giant oil spill. He said U.S. F-111 fighter-bombers used "smart bombs" to attack a coastal oil facility in Kuwait on Saturday to try to prevent more oil from entering the gulf.
International experts arrived in the region Monday to work on cleaning up the huge slick, which U.S. officials said was begun by Iraqi forces in Kuwait. A Norwegian ship equipped with cleanup equipment was off the coast of Bahrain, and a British consortium was flying in more than 70 tons of equipment including booms and suction skimmers. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency experts met with Saudi officials to put together a cleanup plan.
U.S. officials expressed confidence the attack significantly reduced the flow of crude to the 35-by-10-mile slick, which could threaten desalination plants supplying water to Saudis ad allied forces.
Schwarzkopf said the U.S. warplanes targeted a complex of pipes linking oil fields with an offshore loading buoy for tankers. He said a videotape taken after the air strike indicated much less oil was flowing from the loading buoy after Saturday's attack.
"I think that we have been successful," he said Sunday, "but only time is going to tell."
Stevens said the allies continue their around-the-clock bombing campaign against strategic targets in Iraq and Kuwait. He said they carried out more than 2,000 sorties Monday - pushing the total to more than 24,000 since Jan. 16.
On other fronts, no Scud missiles were fired at Israel or Saudi Arabia Sunday. But on Monday Patriot missiles turned back an Iraqi Scud attack on the Saudi capital late Monday.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said Sunday that air attacks alone will not drive Iraq from Kuwait. U.S. soldiers will be prepared "before the end of February" to launch a ground offensive, he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
In a sober assessment of the potential impact of a ground war, American commanders have warned Army doctors to expect some frontline units to suffer casualties of more than 10 percent in 30 days.
The prediction is tentative, officers stressed, and applies only to the forwardmost units which would be called upon to break through Iraqi lines or drive deep into heavily defended Iraqi-held territory.
A ground battle would pit 675,000 allied troops - including 480,000 Americans - against 540,000 Iraqi soldiers in and near occupied Kuwait.