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Air Element Boss Details Coalition Contributions

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2003 – Coalition air forces have flown more than 6,000 sorties to date in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Daniel Leaf today.

Leaf heads the air component coordination element at U.S. Central Command's Land Component headquarters in Kuwait, where he spoke to reporters.

Coalition air forces flew nearly 2,000 sorties on the first day of the air war alone, Leaf said, noting that the Iraqis have fired a great deal of anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles at coalition planes.

"It is dangerous, hard work," he said.

The coalition has 1,600 aircraft, the general said, "everything from long-range bombers to fighters; tankers; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (aircraft); and both inter- and intra- theater airlift."

These aircraft are spread all over the world, he added. Some planes come from as far away as Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., which is a 35-hour, roundtrip mission. Others are based in the United Kingdom and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

In addition, planes are based in more than 30 bases in a dozen countries in the Middle East.

The Navy also has aircraft aboard five carrier battle groups in the region.

U.S. space assets are also being used. The Combined Forces Air Component commander uses 50 Defense Department satellites to aid in weather forecasting, communications, surveillance and missile-launch warning, Leaf said.

For the air offensive against Iraq to work, all coalition aircraft must cooperate in this complex command and control environment. Leaf said the forces are working together under one air-space plan.

All operate under common air-tasking orders, and all are controlled through a single combined air operations center. Manning the center are coalition members from all U.S. services and several coalition partners, Leaf said.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, called the coalition aircraft his "shock air forces." Under his war plan, coalition aircraft are striking Iraqi integrated air defense sites, regime command and control targets, the regime's leadership and weapons of mass destruction targets throughout the country.

Central Command targeting decisions are done with great care, Leaf said. "We are intent on minimizing collateral damage and unintended consequences," he said. "The targeting decisions are reviewed by many people at several levels to ensure we have done everything possible."

Coalition air forces are also performing close-air support for land component units. Air units are also working closely with special operations forces, he said.

Finally, the 120 tactical airlifters in the coalition air forces stand ready to deliver humanitarian relief and assistance to the Iraqi people, he said.

"If I were to describe the role of coalition airpower in a simple analogy, I would use two hands: one balled into a fist and the other completely wide open and extended," Leaf said.

"The fist indicates that we are ready, willing and able to defend the interests of our coalition and disarm the Iraqi regime. The open hand is the hand of hope freely extended to show our commitment to rapidly airlift food, medicine and other humanitarian aid to the suffering people of Iraq."

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