ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT April 6 —
Weeks of intense air attacks over northern Iraq have crippled the
fighting ability of more than a quarter of Saddam Hussein's army,
including Republican Guard elements, Navy commanders say.
Though far from the spotlight of the battle for Baghdad, the
carrier-launched airstrikes from the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the
USS Harry S. Truman are significant not only for control of the
north but also for securing the capital, they say.
In interviews with The Associated Press, commanders and combat
pilots attacking northern targets over Turkish airspace described
their two-week campaign as less showy than the battle for the
capital but crucial in winning the war.
Rear Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., commander of the Roosevelt strike
group deployed in the eastern Mediterranean, said the combat sorties
from the Roosevelt and the Truman have "significantly degraded the
fighting capability" of about 10 Iraqi army divisions.
They have also "severely" hurt the fighting strength of the Iraqi
Republican Guard's first, second and fifth corps, he said.
With an Iraqi division numbering 10,000 to 12,000 soldiers, the
attacks have crippled about 100,000 troops deployed in a line
running from the Turkish border in the north to Iran in the
southeast and close to the key Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk,
Before the conflict, Saddam was thought to command 389,000
full-time, active-duty military, including about 80,000 Republican
The Pentagon had planned to deploy more than 60,000 troops
southward from Turkey to squeeze Baghdad from two sides. But with
the Turkish parliament opposed, plans had to be changed.
In the north, Saddam's troops face a mix of U.S. special forces,
Kurdish fighters and a 173rd Airborne Regiment that parachuted down
March 26 and secured an airfield near the village of Harir.
While control of the airfield has permitted more troops and
equipment to be flown in, regular U.S. forces in the north still
number no more than around 2,000 soldiers, with little heavy
That prevents them from punching through the Iraqis with heavy
armor, which has been successful south of Baghdad, and increases the
importance of air power, working together with special operations
units that locate targets on the ground and then call down strikes
Once alerted, F/A18 Hornets and F/14 Tomcats from the two
carriers release laser or satellite-guided "smart bombs" on targets
that have included artillery positions, troop concentrations,
surface-to-air missile sites and tanks and other armored
Land-based B-52 bombers also are part of the air campaign hitting
buildings and other larger targets. But Harvey and senior Navy
pilots said much of the damage to the Iraqis came from the 100-plus
combat planes flying day and night from the Roosevelt and
Harvey highlighted an early air strike from the Roosevelt on what
Pentagon officials describe as a terrorist camp of the Ansar
"The destruction the Ansar al-Islam and the al-Qaida terrorists
on the Iraq-Iranian border region ... will grow in significance over
time" as the camp is thoroughly searched for evidence linking it to
terrorist campaigns worldwide, he said.
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