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British pilots 'awed' at sight of Baghdad ablaze

British air force pilots on Saturday spoke of their "awe" at the aerial view of Baghdad ablaze and of the level of resistance Iraq put up.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2003 09:53 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

British air force pilots spoke on Saturday of their "awe" at the aerial view of Baghdad ablaze, and also of the level of resistance Iraq put up.

"Baghdad was ablaze," said Wing Commander Derek Watson after returning safely to this desert base.

"There were explosions going off every few seconds," said Watson, who led his squadron into enemy fire and delivered Air Launched Anti Radiation Missiles (ALARM) to take out Baghdad's integrated air defence systems opening the way for bombers to target Saddam Hussein and his regime.

"We had anti-aircraft fire to one side and multiple rocket launchers were used against us, putting up about eight to 10 missiles.

"We could see them but they were never a threat," he added.

The British Tornado squadron paved the way for the massive aerial bombardment of Baghdad.

"We set off with a full payload of ALARMS and we saw them all go," he said.

Baghdad was already under a huge missile attack when the Tornadoes arrived and far more followed.

"When we got up we had to fly through a wall of coalition aircraft waiting to go in behind us," said the 39-year-old.

"It was in some ways the most dangerous part. There was so much up there. I have never seen anything like it," admitted the wing commander.

"When we approached Baghdad it was a red glow on the horizon. The missiles were already doing their work.

"But the Iraqis were still firing back. It is not over yet."

All of Watson's IX(B) squadron returned safely, as did the Tornado aircraft of 617 squadron (The Dam Busters), which were flying a separate and unspecified mission.

His navigator, Squadron Leader James Linter, added: "They talked about the attack on Baghdad being shocking and awesome, and that is what it was.

"I would not have wanted to be on the receiving end."

Despite the rapid push north into Iraq on the ground, Iraqi troops were still able to put missiles into the air Friday night, one causing a full scale chemical alert at Ali Al Salem base.

All personnel, including the recently returned Tornado crews, had to dive for cover in bunkers.

It emerged that an Al Samoud missile had fallen safely in the surrounding desert.

Earlier in the day Patriot missiles were launched to destroy several other Iraqi missiles aimed towards the base, plumes of smoke clearly visible in the sky overhead.

In Washington, a US defence official said coalition air forces flew 1,000 strike sorties and fired 1,000 cruise missiles at Iraq on Friday in a barrage of firepower.

Regime command and control, security and leadership installations were targeted as well as sites related to weapons of mass destruction and the integrated air defense system, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

"They flew from 30 air bases in a dozen countries and five carriers," said the official.

Three missiles fired at Baghdad: al-Jazeera

Doha: At least three missiles were heard striking in or around Baghdad at 5:30 a.m. Saturday (0230 GMT), the satellite network al-Jazeera said.

An air raid siren went off in the Iraqi capital at about the same time, the channel said in a report from a correspondent in Baghdad. There were no further details.

First Published: Mar 22, 2003 09:53 IST