Air Force officers say they were told "this could be the big one" on Monday when they scrambled to launch an air strike over Baghdad that intelligence indicated could have targeted Saddam Hussein and other senior Iraqi leaders.
Lieutenant Colonel Fred Swan and three other crewmembers in a Air Force B-1 bomber were in the air, refueling over western Iraq, when they got the orders to drop four precision-guided bombs, including two "bunker busters," on a high priority target in Baghdad.
Colonel Swan said it took only 12 minutes from receiving the orders to drop the bombs on a target in the residential Mansour district where Saddam Hussein and his sons may have been meeting.
"When we got the word that it was a priority leadership target immediately you get kind of an adrenaline rush, the crew does, but then you fall back to your original training that said hey let us get the job done. We knew we had to react quickly to it," he said. "There are four crewmembers on the B-1 and we all have our own separate jobs to do, but we have to work in concert together to make this happen. When we get the coordinates in, in a case like this, the only way to make it work is have accurate coordinates. We cross check those three different times with the airborne controller that passed them to us. Then we checked them again with the jet to make it happen. At the time for me, what I was thinking, was well this could be the big one, let us make sure we get it right."
In a conversation with reporters at the Pentagon, conducted by satellite from an undisclosed airbase, Colonel Swan said the bombing was part of a more than 10-hour flight that blasted the possible Iraqi leadership target and 17 other sites in Iraq.
Colonel Swan said because of cloudy weather the crew could not see the target, but used global positioning coordinates in the attempt to kill Saddam.
The pilot of the B-1 bomber, Captain Chris Wachter, said his crew felt good about the mission. "It is a feather in the cap. It is a good feeling. But I want you guys to know that anyone could do this, anyone in my squadron has this ability to go in and do this. It just so happens we were the lucky ones," he said.
The "bunker buster" bombs plow deep into the target before exploding, and members of the B-1 crew say they are used to avoid significant damage beyond the target site.
Coalition leaders are trying to determine whether the air strike killed Saddam Hussein or others in his regime.