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Coalition Air Forces Make Ground Gains Possible

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2003 – Americans see the tanks driving through Baghdad, but what they really don't see is the air campaign that helped make it possible.

The main beneficiaries of the air campaign are the young soldiers and Marines driving into the heart of the Iraqi capital is the view of the combined forces air component commander in the theater.

"Along the way there's going to be someone, somewhere who will want an accounting scheme of who killed what vehicle," said Air Force Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley. "But right now that isn't important to us, and it's not important to that lieutenant or captain (commanding a unit on the ground). I just say we've killed a hell of a lot of them; we're going to keep killing them until they quit moving."

As coalition forces move into Baghdad, the air campaign is changing, said Moseley from his headquarters in Saudi Arabia today in an interview.

He's in charge of air assets in the theater. These include the aircraft of five U.S. Navy aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean; U.S. Air Force units based at more than 30 bases in the theater and some outside it; Marine aviation aboard the carriers and on land; and Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force aircraft based in the region.

As land forces move into the city, the nature of air support will change. Moseley said the coalition will maintain airborne forward air controllers over the city 24 hours a day. These airmen will act as liaisons with ground forward air controllers and any number of aircraft "stacked" over Baghdad. Different types of aircraft with different sets of munitions will be ready to support ground forces 24 hours a day.

"The close-air support problem is a challenge in the desert or in the city, because you are delivering weapons in close proximity of friendly troops," Moseley said. "It's a little more of a challenge in an urban setting because of the civilians that are there that you are trying to liberate."

The coalition aircraft have dealt with this before. The U.S. military has studied the problems associated with close-air support in an urban setting, and experiences in operations over Afghanistan have given the United States an edge in this critical area of combat.

President Bush and senior officials have stated many times: The coalition is after the Iraqi regime, not the Iraqi people.

"The trick in doing this is to use the smallest munition possible to get the maximum effect, so you don't create the unnecessary loss of civilian life or property," Moseley said. "It is interesting that we are more interested in the people and property and structures in Baghdad than the Iraqi military is."

And sometimes the right explosive is no explosive. In especially critical areas, the air forces can drop inert munitions a precision-guided bomb with no explosives inside to take out a target, Moseley said. This consideration continues the coalition practice of only using precision-guided munitions inside Baghdad.

But this is not easy, the general said. "It's only because we've trained to do this, and only because we've spent a lot of time worrying about this and rehearsing this that have we got to the point where we open that concept of (operations) up to support both the Marines and the Army with a wide variety of aircraft and munitions," he said.

The coalition air forces have a number of missions in this conflict, and different parts of Iraq mean a different concept of operations. Operations in the north are different from the south, and both are different from in the west of the country, Moseley said.

In the north, coalition air forces work closely with special operations forces and conventional forces. Special operations forces are working with Kurdish groups against the regime and against terrorist camps. The coalition air forces are hitting strategic targets. Navy fighters from the Mediterranean are providing most of the close-air support for coalition forces in the north.

Coalition air forces dropped the 173rd Airborne Brigade into northern Iraq and are running an airhead to resupply the coalition forces.

In western Iraq, the mission is different still. There, one aspect is stopping Iraq from firing ballistic missiles at its neighbors, Moseley said. Coalition air forces also work with coalition special operations forces holding airfields in the region.

In the south, coalition air forces switched rather quickly from strategic targets to support to land component forces.

They did all this while other coalition aircraft were hitting regime targets, conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, airlifting supplies and people and hitting Iraqi air defense sites.

Moseley specifically mentioned the critical role tanker aircraft have played in any air campaign. From March 19 through April 3, coalition tankers had transferred 30 million gallons of jet fuel.

But air responsibility doesn't end at the atmosphere. Moseley said there are more than 50 satellites supporting land, sea and air component commanders. He said they have been unbelievably capable, supporting all aspects of the campaign.

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