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Coalition Air Forces Fly 1,500 Missions March 26

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2003 – Coalition air forces struck repeatedly at Iraqi Republican Guard formations March 26, defense officials said.

Coalition aircraft flew about 1,500 sorties with about 600 strikes on that day. Only about 100 of the strikes were "planned." Most were Republican Guard targets of opportunity, officials said. The planned targets aimed at Iraqi command and control sites, leadership targets in and around Baghdad and portions of the Iraqi integrated air defense system.

Officials said press reports that the Iraqi air defense system is not operating are wrong. "While we have degraded the system quite a bit, flying over Iraq is still dangerous," said the official. "We continue to target Iraqi defenses."

Still, coalition air forces have not just air superiority over Iraq, but "air dominance." "The Iraqis have chosen not to take us on in the skies," said the official. "They are keeping their planes on the ground."

Officials also addressed charges that American bombs went astray and struck a Baghdad market. The coalition did not have any missions aimed near the area, they said. They conjectured that the hit may have been an Iraqi air defense missile. Coalition officials said the Iraqis do not turn on their radars to guide missiles against coalition planes because they know the coalition will sense the radars and destroy them. As a result, the Iraqis simply fire their missiles into the sky and hope they run into coalition planes.

What goes up and doesn't hit something must come back down, however, and the Iraqi missiles may be impacting in Baghdad, a Defense official said.

The same is true of anti-aircraft artillery fired at coalition aircraft. Chunks of falling shrapnel from these shells can wound or kill people on the ground. Coalition officials stress that they are working diligently to spare the Iraqi people. As part of that, more than 70 percent of the air-dropped weapons are precision-guided munitions. Warplanes drop so-called "dumb bombs" only when collateral damage is not a specific issue, officials said.

Officials said coalition aircraft are providing close-air support for ground forces all through Iraq. In addition to the strike sorties, coalition air forces launched tanker aircraft, electronic surveillance aircraft, reconnaissance planes and air transport aircraft to support operations.

Coalition aircraft are also targeting suspected Scud missile sites in western Iraq.

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