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Operation Desert Strike
Part of the Iraqi Kurdish Civil War and Iraqi no-fly zones conflict
Operation Desert Strike - Tomahawk cruise missiles launch.jpg
Tomahawk cruise missiles launches from the bow of the USS Laboon (DDG 58) to attack selected air defense targets in Iraq, 3 September 1996.
Date3 September 1996
Result US-led coalition victory
United StatesUS-led Coalition Iraq Republic of Iraq
Commanders and leaders
United States Bill Clinton
United States Anthony Zinni
Iraq Saddam Hussein

The 1996 cruise missile strikes on Iraq (Operation Desert Strike) occurred in September 1996 during the Kurdish Civil War. It involved a joint United States Navy-United States Air Force strike against air defense targets in southern Iraq.

Iraqi offensive

On 31 August 1996, the Iraqi military launched its biggest offensive since 1991 against the city of Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. This attack stoked American fears that the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein intended to launch a genocidal campaign against the Kurds similar to the campaigns of 1988 and 1991. It also placed Saddam in clear violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 forbidding repression of Iraq's ethnic minorities.

Cruise missile strike

The cruise missile strike was preliminarily planned to be by aircraft launched from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), including aircraft from Fighter Squadron 11 (VF-11) and Fighter Squadron 31 (VF-31), both operating F-14D Tomcats, Electronic Attack Squadron 139 (VAQ-139), operating EA-6B Prowlers, Attack Squadron 196 (VA-196), operating A-6E Intruders equipped with the Target Recognition and Attack Multi-Sensor (TRAM) system, and Strike Fighter Squadron 113 (VFA-113) and Strike Fighter Squadron 25 (VFA-25), both operating F/A-18 Hornets. However, the strike instead was launched by U.S. Navy surface warships and U.S. Air Force bombers.

On 3 September 1996, ships from the Carl Vinson Carrier Battle Group, including the guided-missile cruiser USS  Shiloh (CG-67) and the guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon (DDG-58), in conjunction with U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers escorted by F-14D Tomcat fighters from Carl Vinson, launched 27 cruise missiles against Iraqi air defense targets in southern Iraq.[1] A second wave of 17 missiles was launched later that day.[2] The missiles hit targets in and around Kut, Iskandariyah, Nasiriyah, and Tallil.[3]


The attacks were primarily aimed at retaliation for the targeting of USAF fighters in the Northern and Southern no-fly zones, and were targeted at surface to air missile sites and command, control, and communication locations, with the intention of degrading the Iraqi air defense infrastructure. These strikes, along with follow-on deployments of troops, aircraft, and the addition of a second aircraft carrier to the region, achieved their desired results.

It is debatable whether the attacks did or did not have a substantial effect on Iraq's northern campaign. Once they installed the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in control of Irbil, Iraqi troops withdrew from the Kurdish region back to their initial positions. The KDP drove the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) from its other strongholds, and with additional Iraqi help, captured Sulaymaniyah. The PUK and its leader, Jalal Talabani, retreated to the Iranian border, and American forces evacuated 700 Iraqi National Congress personnel and 6,000 pro-Western Kurds out of northern Iraq.[4]

In response to Iraq's moves, the United States and United Kingdom also expanded Operation Southern Watch and the southern Iraqi no-fly zones from the 32nd parallel to the 33rd parallel, bringing it to the edges of Baghdad itself.[1]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 John Pike. "Operation Desert Strike at". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  2. "US Launches 2nd Cruise Missile Attack in Iraq". Emergencynet News Service. 3 September 1996. Archived from the original on 9 February 2005. Retrieved 1 September 2013. 
  3. "U.S. launches missile strikes against Iraq -". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  4. Katz, Jonathan M.. "The Kurds - Slate Magazine". Retrieved 2013-02-26. 

External links

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