WASHINGTON – U.S.-led coalition forces have launched a massive air campaign and "several hundred military targets" will be hit "in the next couple of hours," Pentagon officials said Friday.
"What is taking place today is as targeted a campaign as has ever existed," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said as the "Shock and Awe" campaign rained down hundreds of thousand-pound bombs and ship-launched cruise missiles on Baghdad.
"The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing. Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country is slipping away. They're beginning to realize, I suspect, that the regime is history," Rumsfeld said, relaying some of the comments that have repeatedly been used in the psychological campaign against Iraq.
Among the targets hit was Saddam Hussein's presidential palace. Witnesses in the areas said the main palace was ablaze and about 25 other buildings already had been destroyed.
After limited attacks Wednesday night on Iraqi leadership targets and sporadic fighting throughout the day Thursday, ground forces began making their ascent toward Baghdad on Thursday evening around 10:00 p.m. EST. The air campaign began at 1:00 p.m. EST Friday.
Rumsfeld said the campaign was designed to minimize the possibility of taking innocent lives and deflected concerns that there was any recklessness in the choice of bombing so many sites in the capital city of Baghdad, with a population of 5 million.
Rumsfeld said he doubted that the campaign would completely cut off military leaders from using the "multiple methods of communicating through command and control systems," but that the bombing — preceded by leaflets urging Iraqi soldiers to quit the fight — would convince the rank-and-file military to abandon their resistance.
"My expectation is not that we will get 100 percent of their ability to communicate but that we will be persuasive enough to people who have to follow orders ... that it is clearly not in their interest to obey" their leaders, Rumsfeld said.
Added Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers: "To the commanders and soldiers of the Iraqi forces, I urge in the strongest possible terms ... stop fighting so that you may live to enjoy a free Iraq where you and your families may grow and prosper."
Rumsfeld said he has no doubt that the leadership compound the military struck in the opening salvo Wednesday night was destroyed — he has the pictures to prove it — but "the question is what was in there."
Intelligence sources say they believe Saddam may indeed have been injured in that attack.
More than 45 nations now associate themselves with the coalition effort, and U.K., Australian and Polish forces are in the field. Rumsfeld praised them, saying to coalition partners: "We are proud of you. We stand with you today. We have every confidence in your courage, your tenacity and your willingness to get this done."
Pentagon officials replayed video of several of the bombing campaigns from Thursday. The air assault Friday, which came 41 hours into the campaign, was preceded by ground forces. Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander in the field, was the one who calculated that ground forces should come first in order to secure Iraqi oil fields, Myers said.
On Friday, officials in the field confirmed that they had also captured the port of Umm Qasr, and U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf seized one Iraqi missile ship and two tug boats that had at least 50 land mines aboard.
American forces also seized two key western Iraqi airbases where Saddam Hussein is believed to have Scud missiles. The bases were near the so-called "Scud Box," where it was feared Iraq could launch Scud attacks on Israel. They will now become operational for coalition forces.
The coalition had suffered 14 casualties in the first day and a half of battle, with two Marines killed on the ground and 12 more killed when their CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed. Four U.S. soldiers and eight British forces were killed in the crash.
Rumsfeld and Myers expressed their condolences toward those soldiers, saying they gave their lives in the service of their nation and for the greater good of the world.
At the outset, Rumsfeld listed a set of eight objectives that they were moving closer to achieving. They included: ending Saddam's regime; eliminating weapons of mass destruction; searching for, capturing and driving out terrorists who have found safe haven in Iraq; locating intelligence on terror activities being planned from Iraq; locating intelligence on the global terrorist network that has been formed; delivering humanitarian relief; securing Iraq's oil fields; and helping the Iraqi people transition quickly to self-government while ensuring the nation's territorial integrity.