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Missile Expert Backs Claim U.S. Failed to Destroy Scuds

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A U.S. expert who has disputed Pentagon claims that American aircraft wreaked destruction on Iraqi Scud missiles during the Persian Gulf War may have vindicated an Israel air force general who was sharply rapped this week for saying essentially the same thing.

The expert, Scott Ritter, was quoted Wednesday in a New York Times article as insisting that “no mobile Scud launchers were destroyed during the war,” notwithstanding elaborate claims to the contrary made to American television audiences by top military brass.

Ritter, a former Marine Corps captain, is a ballistic missile analyst with the U.N. commission in charge of supervising the destruction of Iraq’s weaponry. He was quoted in an op-ed piece written by Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of a forthcoming book on the Gulf war.

According to the article, despite the hype aimed at generating public enthusiasm for the war, U.S. aircraft failed to find, much less destroy, most of the Scud launchers, fixed or mobile.

The Pentagon declared the Scud missile sites “destroyed” on Jan. 16, 1991. A day later, seven Scuds smashed into Tel Aviv, Haifa and other parts of Israel, the article points out.

Reserve Maj. Gen. Avihu Bin-Nun, who commanded the Israeli air force during the war, was taken to task by his own government and by the United States for saying in an Air Force Day speech last week that the United States not only failed to destroy the Iraqi Scuds but did not even try.

In Washington, the Pentagon issued an angry rebuttal and Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Danny Naveh dissociated the ministry from Bin-Nun’s remarks.

In Israel, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir fumed that the statement was unwarranted. And U.S. Ambassador William Harrop said, “I can’t understand how someone who was as closely involved with the events as he was could say such things.”

Bin-Nun made the controversial remarks June 18 at a forum of systems analysts in Tel Aviv. He was quoted as saying, “It’s not that the U.S. military failed to stop Iraqi Scud launchings against Israel; they never tried.

“I know that this is a very harsh accusation, but I stand firmly behind it,” the general said.

Bin-Nun was quoted as saying that only a very small proportion of U.S. air sorties during the Gulf war were aimed at destroying Scud missile launchers and that the United States failed to use attack helicopters for that purpose.

He also charged that the few attacks made by U.S. aircraft on the Scud launching sites had the purpose of deterring the Israeli air force form doing the job itself.

A total of 39 Scud missiles struck Israel during the war, causing extensive property damage but no serious casualties.

The U.S. Air Force and Special Operations Command insist they destroyed many Scud missiles and mobile launchers, but American intelligence agencies, relying largely on satellite photos, do not confirm the damage estimates, the New York Times article pointed out.

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