Following Operations DESERT STORM and DESERT SHIELD, and preceding Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, the Clinton Administration was examining means and methods to reduce Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s ability to conduct war operations.  This followed multiple interventions to include the Gulf War, and subsequent hostile actions against the neighboring nation of Kuwait.  UNSC policies in place called for routine weapon inspections of the Iraqi military.  In addition, the 1998 “Iraq Liberation Act” was signed into law to help siphon power from Saddam.  Funding was then routed to opposition forces in the region.[1]

The proposal of DESERT FOX (and the abandoned DESERT THUNDER) was to degrade Iraq’s ability to manufacture and use weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical weapons and potential nuclear armaments.[2] This posture was taken due to the knowledge that Iraq had previously deployed chemical and biological warfare in previous conflicts.  Therefore, the mission objective was not to totally eliminate Iraq’s WMD stash, but to reduce or degrade it to a much more limited capacity.

DESERT FOX commenced on 16 December 1998 and lasted thru 19 December.  The operation was unique and historic in many ways.  Chief among these was the first-time women flew in an attack sortie capacity for the U.S. Navy.  In addition, it was the first combat deployment for the B-1B Lancer.  The USAF deployed F-16’s on ground attack sorties, in addition to the Navy’s F/A-18C’s.  B-52’s struck at targets along with the B-1’s over the course of the campaign.  By the second night, naval launched cruise missiles were included in the deployment.

By and large, Iraqi air defenses were unable to locate any of the attacking aircraft.  Instead, Iraqi defenses resorted to blanketing the sky with machine gun and anti-aircraft fire which were largely ineffective.  A total of 415 cruise missiles and 600 bombs were used during the operation against 97 specific sites.  The sites included military installations, oil facilities, airfields and weapon production and storage facilities—all of which were struck and/or destroyed.  The American-British force suffered no losses during the campaign.

Despite the operational success, it’s role in the overall reduction of the threat of Iraq has largely been questioned.  The operation drew a fair amount of criticism at home and abroad, and the ultimate results of the campaign were effectively rendered moot with the subsequent strikes beginning in 2002.


[1] H.R. 4655: Iraq Liberation Act. 31 October 1998.

[2] Lehrer, James.  “Interview with Secretary Albright.” NewsHour. Public Broadcasting Service. 17 December 1998.

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