ASSESSING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE SCUD HUNT
In the immediate aftermath of the war, British and American political and military leaders announced that coalition operations had effectively neutralized the Scud threat. Senior U.S. SOF officers claimed that U.S. teams operating in western Iraq were responsible for the destruction of as many as a dozen mobile TELs.47 A year after the war’s end, however, Pentagon officials began expressing public doubt about the number of Scud TELs actually eliminated by coalition forces. In the words of Pete Williams, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, there was “no accurate count of how many mobile launchers had been destroyed.”48 The Pentagon’s postwar study on Gulf air operations, the Gulf War Air Power Survey, concluded that sensor limitations on coalition aircraft, combined with highly effective Iraqi tactics, resulted in relatively few mobile launcher kills. According to the report,
a few [TELs] may have been destroyed, but nowhere near the numbers
reported during the war . . . . [T]here is no indisputable proof
that Scud mobile launchers—as opposed to high-fidelity decoys,
trucks, or other objects with Scud-like signatures—were destroyed
by fixed-wing aircraft.49
The postwar UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) established to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction discovered substantial evidence that the coalition had destroyed far fewer missiles and mobile TELs than had originally been claimed. Despite the coalition’s Scud-hunting campaign, Saddam Hussein, according to UNSCOM, retained a significant postwar capability of 62 complete Al Hussein missiles, 12 MAZ 543 TELs, and seven Al-Nidal and Al-Waleed mobile launchers.
In the face of such skepticism about earlier claims of effectiveness, defenders of the special operations against the Scud threat put forward a new argument. Instead of focusing on the question of how many Scuds or mobile TELs had been killed, supporters now stressed the deterrent effect of coalition operations.
The combination of special operations and air strikes, according to this view, created pressure on mobile TEL crews, forcing them to continuously seek new launch sites and slowing their rate of fire.52
To be sure, launch rates did decline over the life of the Scud-hunting campaign. During the course of the war, Iraq fired a total of 88 extended-range Scuds against targets in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. A total of 33 launches took place during the opening week of Desert Storm, a daily rate of 4.7 launches. During the remaining 36 days of the conflict, the Iraqis fired 55 missiles, bringing the daily launch rate down to 1.5. As impressive as this lower rate sounds, however, it must be considered in context. While it is true that Scud firings dropped during the third and fourth week, they began to increase during the final week of the conflict. Iraq, according to a March 1990 DIA assessment, had the ability even in the last days of the war to “initiate firings from new launch areas and to retarget . . . from urban to military and high-value targets.”53
What this suggests is that after initially being hindered by coalition anti-Scud activities, the Iraqis managed to adapt to the pressure created by these operations.