London/Washington, 17 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - U.S.-led air raids on Iraq overnight were aimed at destroying Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological weapons capabilities, and not at toppling the Iraqi leader, British Defense Secretary George Robertson said today at a press briefing in London. In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen pronounced the first raids a success, based on preliminary reports. He said assigned missions have been completed, appropriate targets struck, and U.S. casualties avoided.
Robertson said the attacks so far have been solely by long-range missiles and aircraft launched from U.S. aircraft carriers and bases. But he said British forces soon will join the assault.
Robertson said the British and U.S. governments decided jointly to launch the attacks. He denied the raids were timed to help President Bill Clinton with his impeachment troubles in the U.S. Congress.
General Sir Charles Guthrie, chief of the British defense staff, said British Tornado fighter bombers based in Kuwait are near the Iraqi border, ready to deploy in a new wave of strikes.
Radio Baghdad said today that Saddam Hussein toured a number of sites struck by the U.S. missiles. The radio said missiles struck the home of Saddam's youngest daughter, Hala, but that she was not home and was unharmed.
The U.S.-led assault on Iraq began with the launch of more than 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles and HARM anti-air-defense missiles aimed at Iraq's ability to counter air attacks.
They were followed by attacks on Iraqi military communication centers, and installations believed to conceal supply and manufacturing equipment for biological and chemical weapons. At dawn in Iraq, U.S. spy satellites and U2 spy planes flew over to assess the initial destruction.
Most European Union (EU) and NATO leaders today supported the military strikes. But Russia, Ukraine, China, Iran, Italy and India condemned them.
Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel, who serves as the current EU Council president, said all EU states regret that military action was necessary. But Schuessel said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is at fault for failing to comply with Baghdad's disarmament obligations.
NATO Secretary General Javier Solana also blamed Saddam. Of the 16 states in the NATO alliance, only Italy clearly opposed the raids. Rome called for an immediate end to attacks. Turkey expressed concern, but said Washington has not asked to use its facilities to launch strikes.
In Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov declared the strikes "outrageous." He said Russia will call on the United Nations Security Council to meet again to discuss the crisis. Kremlin foreign affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko said a Duma vote scheduled for today on ratifying the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty will be delayed because of the raids.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country does not plan to become involved in the confrontation. But he said Israel retains the right to defend itself if Iraq launches missile strikes against Israeli targets. Saddam launched numerous scud missile attacks against Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.