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Aviation Continues to Aid Fallujah Mission

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

AL ASAD AIRFIELD, Iraq, Dec. 14, 2004 – Aviation is continuing to play a part in mopping up insurgents in Fallujah, the commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing said here today.

Marine Maj. Gen. Keith J. Stalder commands about 9,000 Marine and Army troops based at this airfield between Baghdad and the Syrian border. He said aviation helped Marines and soldiers in the city with the combat they faced in retaking Fallujah and aviation continues to target the small pockets of insurgents that remain.

"The wing is still flying missions -- mostly fixed-wing, but some rotary-wing missions as well," Stalder said during an interview with reporters traveling with Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers.

Airfield officials said the number of missions has dropped, but Marine, Air Force and Navy aviators stand ready when called on.

The general said small groups of insurgents -- no more than five to 10 in a group are still active in Fallujah. "They don't own whole city blocks," he said. "They will occupy a building here and a building there."

As coalition forces sweep through an area, the insurgents flee. Later they will attempt to reoccupy a building, and the coalition forces engage them, officials here said.

Battling the insurgency from the air requires fire support when needed. Stalder said the need for aviation support has been relatively consistent since his arrival in Iraq in May. "I think it will remain so through the end of the election," he said. The Iraqis will elect a national assembly Jan. 30 to write their new constitution.

Stalder said reports of damage to Fallujah were unfair. He said the coalition exclusively used precision weapons against the insurgents. He said all involved in planning and executing the operations worried about collateral damage and went to great lengths to avoid it.

All missions in support of operations against Fallujah went through the Combined Forces Air Component Command. It "could be a Marine providing the support, could be Air Force, could be Navy off a carrier. They are all one and the same," Stalder said.

He said that weather was the most significant challenge during the operation. The ceiling for aircraft was low, and that forced fixed-wing aircraft to fly lower than normal or the use of helicopters to provide aviation support. The insurgents fired surface-to-air missiles at the aircraft, as well as anti- aircraft artillery, small arms, and -- against the helicopters -- rocket- propelled grenades. He said no aircraft were lost and mechanics at the base were able to repair the damaged craft.

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Marine Maj. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, Commander, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

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