WASHINGTON - The United States military will try to minimise civilian casualties in conflict against Iraq by using guided weapons and a mathematical formula known as "bug splat".

It would also use "non-lethal" weapons, such as "offensive electronics", when appropriate, said Army General Tommy Franks, who as head of Central Command will be in charge of any assault on Iraq.

He would not give details.

The US has been building military forces in the Gulf region for months in preparation for a possible war against Iraq.

Washington accuses Baghdad of being a threat by refusing to give up biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Iraq denies it has such weapons of mass destruction.

The Pentagon held a media briefing to make the point that it would do all it could to prevent civilian deaths if there was a war.

A Central Command official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said precision weapons would account for about 70 per cent of the weapons used, compared with 20 per cent in the 1991 Gulf War.

US forces would match weapons with targets to avoid civilian casualties.

For example, non-precision bombs could be used on Iraqi military forces in the open, but in an urban area an effort would be made to keep the circle of impact smaller, he said.

A 227kg dumb bomb dropped from a medium altitude would affect a circular area of 60m from point of impact. A 227kg laser-guided bomb would shrink that circle to about 7m.

So when choosing targets, war planners draw a circle around the impact zone to see what else might be affected and may adjust the weapon or angle of strike.

A mathematical process known as "the bug splat" is used to show what areas would be hit by fragments from a bomb dropped at a certain angle on a specific building.

About 3500 Iraqi civilians were killed and thousands of homes destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War.

Defence and military officials said last month that the US military planned to unleash as many as 3000 precision bombs and cruise missiles in the first 48-hours of a "shock and awe" war against Iraq.

US warships and heavy bombers would launch nearly 700 long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles, at a cost of about US$1 million ($1.77 million) each, in opening high-tech strikes 10 times more potent than the beginning of the 1991 Gulf War.

The official said hospitals, mosques, and schools would be protected from strikes - unless the Iraqi military moved equipment and weapons into those sites.

He acknowledged that 7 per cent to 10 per cent of guided bombs would not hit within the expected target range because of mechanical or other type of failure.


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