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Tuesday, April 15

Pilots knew importance of 'Chemical Ali' attack

By Gordon Trowbridge | Air Force Times

FROM A FORWARD AIR BASE, Persian Gulf region - Air Force attack jets from this desert air base performed the April 6 attack on the home of Chemical Ali, the infamous relative of Saddam Hussein believed responsible for violent suppression of northern Iraq's Kurds, the commander here confirmed Tuesday.

"There was obviously a lot of intense interest," said Col. Tom Jones commander of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, whose pilots executed the attack. "People realized this was an important mission. We knew we were talking about a senior member of the Iraqi regime, somebody who stood for all the things that were wrong about that regime."

The target, Ali Hasan al-Majid, has long been considered one of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's chief henchmen. He is widely believed to have orchestrated Iraq's repression of its ethnic Kurdish minority, including the use of chemical weapons on Kurdish villages in northern Iraq.

Saddam had named his cousin commander of all Iraqi forces in southern Iraq, and U.S. commanders feared him as the most likely Iraqi commander to use chemical weapons against coalition forces. More than a week after the attack, it's still unclear whether the F-16 attack on a home near Basra killed him.

Mission planners here received a request from the Air Force's campaign headquarters in Saudi Arabia to make the attack, based on intelligence reports that al-Majid was in the Basra building.

Air Force personnel here have been hesitant to discuss the attack, given standard military reluctance to talk about operational details and the added fear that acknowledging their role could make personnel targets for vengeance attacks.

This base, where journalists have been allowed on condition they not name the base or its host nation, is home to nearly 200 Air Force, Marine Corps and British Royal Air Force aircraft. The Air Force component includes F-16 Falcon jets, capable of dropping the precision munitions used in the attack.

Assessment of the attack, which destroyed the targeted building, began almost as soon as the planes involved returned.

"As soon as they landed, we grabbed the tape, started assessing the strike," Jones said.

Coalition troops previously had tried to kill or capture al-Majid, without success.