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Coalition bringing all powers to bear on Iraq

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Coalition forces are bringing all powers to bear on the Iraqi regime, Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, vice director of operations for U.S. Central Command said today during a briefing in Qatar.

Coalition forces on the land, air and sea are targeting the things nearest and dearest to the regime's heart and sparing civilian infrastructure, he said.

On March 30, air forces flew about 1,800 sorties with about 800 being strike missions. There were 400 tanker missions and 225 airlift sorties. Coalition planes flew about 100 command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties.

Coalition air forces are hitting both fixed and "emerging" targets, defense officials said. About 80 percent of the strike sorties on March 30 were close-air support against Iraqi forces in the north, west and south. Sixty percent of those strikes were against the Medina, Hammurabi and Nebukadnezar divisions of the Iraqi Republican Guard.

"It's not just numbers, but the effect on the regime" that coalition air forces are looking for," said defense officials.

Air Force officials said that for the first time in military history, multiple B-1b, B-2 and B-52 long-range bombers targeted the same geographical area at the same time as part of a single strike package. The bombers launched from different air bases around the world for the strike. They hit fixed Iraqi command and control sites.

Brooks said coalition land component units sought out death squads and paramilitaries to reduce their effect, while continuing attacks on the Republican Guard. British forces in Basra captured several hundred Iraqi prisoners and attacked Iraqi gunboats.

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force conducted raids near an Kut. "They were able to capture several Ba'ath Party members, several arms caches, destroyed air defense equipment and exploited a number of documents," Brooks said.

Also, the Marines seized a large weapons cache - about 40 buildings worth - of ammunition, chemical decontamination equipment, chemical suits and unidentified artillery munitions near Talil airfield near An Nasiriyah, the general said.

Finding the decontamination vehicles and chemical protection suits is another piece of intelligence that the Iraqis have chemical and/or biological weapons ready, Brooks said.

"It's one more tile in the mosaic," he said. "We still cannot determine what the regime will do. We've seen a number of things that tell us there are desperate men that will go to any extreme to protect themselves. We've seen that exhibited before this war started, and it's been reaffirmed since this war started."

This equipment is for chemical protection, but coalition forces do not possess chemical and biological weapons. The conclusion is that the Iraqis may use these weapons, said defense officials.

Central Command officials know that certain Iraqi leaders have been given permission to employ chemical weapons, defense officials said.

"Our efforts will be to prevent that from happening if we can, by identifying the leaders that would make such decisions; by warning military organizations that might pull the trigger what the cost would be and reminding again that no one benefits from the use of weapons of mass destruction," Brooks said.

The coalition will also attack the delivery systems, and the places where these delivery systems might be stored.

The Army's V Corps fought a number of engagements near An Najaf in positions east of the Euphrates River. They captured three small weapons caches. V Corps gunners and aviators concentrated attacks against Medina divisions artillery systems and command posts.

V Corps scouting parties have picked up Iraqi prisoners wearing the Nebukadnezar division patch. This unit normally guards Saddam Hussein's home of Tikrit.

"We're not certain indeed that they are (from the division)," Brooks said. "If it is true, ... it may reinforce some of the movements that were in and around some of the defensive positions that we've seen. It may be reinforcements. It may be replacing losses as a result of the actions that we have inflicted upon the Republican Guard forces."

Coalition special operations forces continued operations and actions throughout Iraq, Brooks said. They are facilitating attacks against regime targets and death squads within urban areas. He said local Iraqis are helping the special operators in these attacks.

Special operations forces have also been effective in interdicting movements into and out of Iraq, and movements within Iraq by Iraqi commandos, missile units and others.

"Coalition special operations forces destroyed two convoys, including 10 tanks," Brooks said. "We've also used special operations gunships with great effectiveness against regime targets and targets of opportunity." (Courtesy American Forces Press Service)

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