Coalition Forces Gird for Iraq Response Over Southern Iraq With AM-Iraq Rdp, Bjt
ON BOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK (AP) _ Allied warplanes ripping through Iraqi airspace on patrols Thursday said Baghdad took no action to retaliate for air raids on its southern missile batteries.
″There are a lot of fighters out there, but they’re all ours,″ said Lt. Paul Malone, 29, from Santa Clara, Calif., after his F-14 Tomcat fighter flew over a southern zone protected by Western allies.
More than 110 allied warplanes swept over the zone late Wednesday in an attack on four radar and communications targets.
At a news conference aboard the Kitty Hawk in the Persian Gulf south of Iraq, the commanders of U.S. naval and air forces in the region said Baghdad’s threats to avenge the attack did not materialize.
″There was no activity at all today of an alarming nature,″ said Rear Adm. Phillip J. Coady of Boston, commander of the 10-ship U.S. naval force in the Gulf.
Coady and the Air Force commander, Brig. Gen. Michael Short of Langley, Va., said the raid made it safer for pilots to bar Iraq from launching aerial attacks against Shiite Muslim rebels in the marshy south.
President Bush imposed the no fly zone on Aug. 27 to protect the rebels, massed below the 32nd parallel. Iraqi surface-to-air missiles, moved recently into the zone, were deemed a threat to the allied planes patrolling the area, and their presence was a major reason cited for Wednesday’s strike.
U.S. Air Force pilots who flew their first combat missions in the attack said they were nervous, but not to the point of white knuckles.
″The best victory is one you don’t have to fight. The next best is one you don’t have to fight for very hard,″ said Maj. G.T. Tovrea, a 36-year-old F-4G ″Wild Weasel″ pilot.
″The deal last night was pretty much no contact from the start,″ Tovrea said.
Pilots on Thursday said they were calmer but still vigilant as lilting reggae music, instead of the usual frenetic rock tapes, was piped into the room where they hold their preflight briefings.
″The tension has eased a bit, but everyone’s got their guard up,″ said Lt. Fred Dowdell, 29, of Grove City, Ohio, after flying a Tomcat on a combat air patrol over southern Iraq.
His was one of the 63 aircraft launched off the carrier Thursday.
Officers said any further attacks would depend on Saddam’s reaction to the strikes and the assessment of how much damage was inflicted.
″The big key factor in this is what he’s going to do next,″ said Capt. James I. Maslowski, the Kitty Hawk’s skipper. ″He can’t continue to make these violations of the U.N. resolutions and if he does so, there could be possible further action.″
Officers said there was still a threat in southern Iraq from anti-aircraft guns and ground-to-air missiles like the few believed fired - ineffectually - at allied aircraft during Wednesday’s strikes.
″We’re still facing the same dangers we’ve faced since day one,″ said Capt. Michael J. McCamish, 48, of San Diego, commander of the Kitty Hawk’s 75 aircraft.
″We have someone who doesn’t want us to enforce the U.N. resolutions, which is what we’re trying to do.″
Short, who is based in Saudi Arabia, brought pilots and ground crews to the Kitty Hawk to meet journalists. States in the region have sought to downpedal the presence of Western forces, apparently for fear of incensing Islamic sensibilities.