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The New York Post April 09, 2003

12 Minutes To Kill Saddam: Conflicting Reports On Fate Of Butcher

By Niles Lathem in D.C. and Andy Geller in New York

As their adrenaline surged, crew members checked the coordinates four times.

Their B-1B bomber had been suddenly diverted to a vital Baghdad mission, and nothing - but nothing - could go wrong.

"This is the big one," the air controller warned.

Lt. Col. Fred Swan, the bombardier, wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but he wasn't taking any chances.

Twelve minutes later - at 20,000 feet - he and the three other crew members dropped four 2,000-pound precision-guided bombs over a target in the upscale al-Mansour section of the city.

It wasn't until hours later that Swan learned the target was a hiding place of Saddam Hussein, son Qusay and key members of his regime.

Yesterday, a day after the strike, electronic intercepts of Iraqi communications revealed growing chaos within Saddam's inner circle - but nothing about whether he is alive or dead.

The intercepts, for example, revealed that orders were being given to Republican Guard units that no longer exist.

"The confusion we are picking up on seems to be growing hour by hour," one official said.

"We are fairly certain and we have good source reports that say he has been killed. But we still don't have substantiation, and I think until we get that we can't definitely say so," Al Lockwood, spokesman for the British military, told Fox News.

But British intelligence sources were less convinced that Saddam was killed.

Although it is believed that he was at the site earlier in the day, he "was probably not in the building when it was bombed," one source told Britain's Guardian newspaper.

President Bush admitted, "I don't know whether he survived. The only thing I know is that he's losing power."

Monday's bombing, which took 45 minutes from start to finish, began when a CIA operative on the ground in Baghdad learned that Saddam and his son were meeting with top intelligence officials and bigwigs of the ruling Ba'ath Party.

The powwow was being held at a bunker behind and below the popular al-Saa restaurant in the Mansour district.

The topic - how to get out of Baghdad safely.

The information was extremely time sensitive because the Iraqi tyrant had been seen going into the building in the early afternoon with 30 to 40 senior aides and bodyguards.

The operative wasted no time.

He used a secure satellite communications line to send a message to a CIA station in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. It was marked "Highest Priority. Time Sensitive."

The message was analyzed by intelligence officials, who determined it matched intercepts of Qusay's communications on Monday.

Everything added up.

Mansour is home to many Ba'ath bigs and honeycombed with bunkers and tunnels.

Saddam's highly publicized walkabout Friday took place in the neighborhood, possibly right in front of the restaurant.

And the bunker where the meeting was being held is near the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, Mukhabarat.

U.S. officials concluded: Act fast.

Using secure satellite communications, the officials passed on the information to the Combined Air Operations Center at Prince Sultan Air Force Base near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

At the air base, the information was used to develop coordinates of Saddam's meeting place and plan strike tactics.

Mission instructions were e-mailed to an AWACS airborne radar plane that coordinates ground and air operations.

An air controller on the AWACS radioed the coordinates to a bomber of the 405th Air Expeditionary Wing - the B-1B manned by Swan, defensive weapons officer Lt. Joe Runci, pilot Capt. Chris Wachter and co-pilot Capt. Slone Hollis.

The target was 200 miles away.

The swing-wing, four-engine bomber, which carries 25 satellite-guided bombs, zoomed off at 900 mph, flying at 20,000 feet.

"You get kind of an adrenaline rush, but then you fall back to your original training that says, 'Hey, let's get the job done,' " Swan said from a base in the Persian Gulf.

"And we knew we had to react quickly to it."

The crew checked and rechecked the coordinates.

"The only way to make it work is have accurate coordinates." Swan said. "So we cross-checked those three different times with the airborne controller that passed them to us, and then we checked them again with the jet to make it happen.

"At the time, what I was thinking was, 'Well, this could be the big one. Let's make sure we get it right,' " he added.

As the four 1-ton bombs were armed, the crew worried that there were still Iraqi forces in Baghdad that could open fire on their plane.

And they planned a route that would take them out of the hostile area.

Then, suddenly, the B-1B was over the target, and the bombs were hurtling to earth.

Swan used the plane's automatic system to release two GBU-31 bombs and two others that had a 25-milisecond delay before exploding.

The idea was to penetrate the bunker - and then deliver an extra punch while protecting as much of the nearby residential area as possible.

Just 12 minutes had expired since the order was given and the bombs were dropped.

"Everything went as advertised." Swan said. "The weapons came off. We knew we hit the target, because the weapon accuracy is it's going to hit within 40 feet. And so, as the weapons come off the jet, they're going to hit the target."

"I didn't know who was there, and I really didn't care," Swan said. "The job was to go put the bombs on the target and worry about that later."

------

WAR DIARY

DAY 20

* U.S. experts tested samples of suspected nerve gas to see if they are the smoking gun of Sadam Husseins chemical weapons cache.

* U.S. forces stormed into Baghdad, seizing one of Saddams oppulent palaces during a daring, daylight raid aimed at showing the Americans can come and go at will.

* British forces claimed control over Basra after a two-week siege. Widespread looting broke out.

DAY 21

* Electronic intercepts of Iraqi communications revealed growing chaos within Saddam Hussein's inner circle a day after the U.S. targeted him with an air strike but offered no information about whether he was alive.

* U.S. forces snuffed out isolated pockets of Iraqi resistance as they continued to tighten their noose on Baghdad, capturing a strategic military airstrip and destroying tons of enemy artillery.

* Army units discovered a 12-room complex - complete with white marble floors, 10-foot ceilings and fluorescent lighting - in a cave near the Baghdad airport.

* An A-10 "Warthog" warplane was shot down near Baghdad, but the pilot ejected safely and was rescued by ground forces.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I don't know whether he [Saddam] survived. The only thing I know is that he's losing power." - President Bush

****

"THIS IS THE BIG ONE" (graphic)

Forty-five minutes. That's all the time it took to plan and execute a bombing mission to take out Saddam Hussein and his sons, Qusay and Uday, who were meeting with senior intelligence and Baath Party officials in a Baghdad bunker Monday.

The attack, which some believe killed the Iraqi leader and his sons, unfolded like this:

1. A CIA operative in Baghdad gets a tip about a meeting that began at about 1 p.m. between Saddam Hussein, his sons, and intelligence officers in a bunker near the al Saa restaurant.

2. The operative passes the tip, via secure satellite communications, to a CIA station in Kurdish-held territory in northern Iraq.

3. At the CIA station, the tip is matched with other intelligence reports, including communications intercepts from Special Republican Guard units, confirming that Qusay Hussein is at a high-level meeting.

4. The information is relayed via secure communications link to the Combined Air Operations Center at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.

5. At the air base, the information is used to develop targeting coordinates, plan strike tactics and select the weapons for the mission.

6. Mission instructions are e-mailed to an AWACs jet flying over the region and responsible for coordinating air operations in Iraq.

7. A U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber flying over western Iraq is selected for the mission.

8. The AWAC's air traffic controller relays the orders to strike a "priority leadership target" to the B-1's crew, telling them, "this is the big one."

9. Aboard the B-1, target coordinates are programmed into four 2,000-pound precision-guided bombs.

10. The B-1 reaches its target at about 2 p.m., within 12 minutes of getting the mission orders.

11. Two GBU-31 "bunker-buster" bombs are released first. Two bombs with "25 millisecond" delayed fuses follow three seconds later.

12. The B-1, with 17 more precision-guided bombs left, continues on to hit two more targets before returning to its base in the Gulf region.

13. Unmanned drones, including the Predator and the Global Hawk, fly over to confirm that the target was hit.

14. An electronic surveilance aircraft is deployed to monitor Iraqi communications to determine whether Saddam was killed in the strike.

SOURCES: AP, DigitalGlobe, GlobalSecurity.org

GRAPHIC: -AWACS E-767, RC-135 surveillance aircraft, Global Hawk unmanned drone, B-1 bomber

-Aftermath of bombing showed a direct hit on target, leaving a 40-foot crater. AFP

-Air Force Capt. Chris Wachter, pilot of the B-1 bomber

-Baghdad map layout. NY Post graphic: Peter LaVigna


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