The Pentagon's spokesman acknowledged Thursday that claims of successful U.S. attacks against mobile Iraqi Scud launchers during the Persian Gulf war were incorrect.
"That was the best evidence that we had at the time," spokesman Pete Williams told reporters of the initial claims. "That was what we thought was true at the time. But now we've gone back, we now say that less damage was left than we previously thought."
Williams was referring to a Jan. 30, 1991, briefing led by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who said 11 vehicles carrying the mobile Scud missiles had been bombed. He also showed dramatic videotape to back up his claim.
But Williams said, "The video footage that was shown and said to be, at the time, destruction of mobile Scud launchers, . . . our information now is that those vehicles were probably large tanker trucks."
He was responding to an opinion-page article in Wednesday's New York Times saying U.S. planes destroyed only 12 of Iraq's 48 Scud launchers, not the 30 or more claimed by Schwarzkopf and other commanders. Written by Mark Crispin Miller, an author and professor at Johns Hopkins University, it noted that Schwarzkopf announced Jan. 20, 1991, that 30 Iraqi fixed Scud launchers and as many as 16 mobile launchers had been destroyed.
Miller was particularly critical of a Jan. 30 briefing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, at which Schwarzkopf said at least three mobile launchers had been destroyed. He said analysts had told Schwarzkopf the objects might only be trucks, as they turned out to be.
He said a special U.N. commission has found only 12 of the 48 Iraqi Scud launchers were destroyed.
Williams said the Pentagon corrected its claims in its assessment of the Persian Gulf war sent to Congress and made public in April this year. That report said that as of early February 1991, only a short time after the Schwarzkopf briefing, "no destruction of mobile launchers had been confirmed."
"If you look back at the Conduct of the War report, we make it pretty clear that we don't have a clear idea about how many Scud missiles were destroyed. We note in the report that our efforts were intensified to get at the Scud missiles, that when we did intensify the efforts to get at Scud missiles, that slowed down the Iraqis' ability to fire them," Williams said.
The report, he added, also stated that intelligence estimates confirmed that "actual damage to Scud production and storage facilities . . . is less than previously thought."
The spokesman said the problems with the differing assessments could be the difficulties of determining whether a truck had been destroyed or whether a mobile Scud launcher had been hit, since the launcher actually is mounted on a truck.
Williams contended the anti-Scud operation was successful because Scud launches averaged five a day during the opening days of the war and, several weeks later, "averaged just slightly more than one a day."