The Forgotten War


    A Close Call: Captain Pettyjohn's F-16 cracked an oil line over Iraq

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    U.S. warplanes enter Iraq through aerial "gates" from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and carriers in the Persian Gulf. Roughly 10,000 U.S. military personnel fly and support about 200 planes to maintain the zones, with some British help. Different countries let the U.S. do different things. Saudi Arabia will not allow U.S. planes using its bases to bomb Iraq, so those missions are assigned to planes from Kuwait or an aircraft carrier. Turkey requires that U.S. planes attack only the weapons that are targeting them and only at the time of the incident.

    Pentagon officials say the flights have not changed in tempo, tactics or targets because of increased tension between Washington and Baghdad. But the U.S. military is responding more aggressively to Iraqi violations of the no-fly zones this year, launching retaliatory strikes 17% of the time compared with 8% last year. In the past two weeks alone, U.S. and British warplanes have attacked Iraq three times for threatening their aircraft, for a total of 37 attacks this year. But even this year's strike rate falls short of the 22% registered in 1999 and 2000.

    The open-ended campaign, Pentagon officials now say, has enabled the U.S. to whittle away Iraq's air defenses over most of the country. The 100-hr. ground campaign in the 1991 Gulf War began after 38 days of bombing carried out by U.S. and allied pilots who had rarely, if ever, flown over Iraq. If real war comes again, pilots know their current good fortune will not last. U.S warplanes would have to fly lower to attack tanks and other moving targets. Saddam's air force and missile batteries would probably be able to down some U.S. warplanes. But if a second Gulf War begins, it would start after 11 years of bombing, and this time be carried out by hundreds of U.S. pilots with lots of experience in Iraqi skies.

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