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Air war turns focus to republican guard

WASHINGTON -- As the U.S.-led war against the Iraqi regime nears the one-week mark, officials from U.S. Central Command said March 25 that coalition air forces have begun narrowing their focus.

Maj. Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., CENTCOM director of operations, told reporters during a press briefing at the command's forward headquarters in Qatar that air power forces would redirect their attention to the most elite of Saddam Hussein's military units.

"The air component will fly over 1,400 combat and combat support missions over Iraq today, paying particular attention to the Iraqi republican gard," Renuart said. "We will also focus on key regime command and control facilities."

In northern Iraq, Kurds have expressed concern about the use of chemical weapons by the Iraqi republican guard and regular army units. Renuart explained that coalition air forces are expending "a fair amount of energy" in an attempt to destroy anything that would adversely affect the Kurds in that region.

"Things like multiple-launch rocket systems have been key targets for us in the areas occupied by the regular army and republican guard units in the north," Renuart said.

Cumulative efforts to deal with the republican guard elsewhere have also proven effective, Renuart said.

"I think we are having a substantial effect," Renuart said. "There are a number of pieces of tanks and artillery pieces and those sorts of things being destroyed. That's happening in hundreds of sorties every day. I think what you will see in the end is that many of those tank revetments are filled with junk, because of the precision and the ability of the air power."

The effects of the weather have been somewhat of an obstacle in the coalition's efforts to destroy republican guard targets. Renuart explained that the dynamic nature of the coalition forces have allowed them to overcome that obstacle.

"Weather has an impact on the battlefield with high winds, rain and thunderstorms," Renuart said. "Certainly the weather and the blowing sand does effect the (Apache helicopters), but this is an integrated, a synergistic approach. We have the flexibility to be able to refocus additional airpower that can use the kinds of precision weapons that are not hampered by the weather in order to continue to strike these targets.

"While we may not have helicopter pressure or ground pressure at a particular point on the battlefield, we continue to balance special and air operations on that force," Renuart said.

Additionally, the wide disbursement of the republican guard has not proven to be too great of a challenge, Renuert explained.

"In terms of forces being spread out, certainly they are displayed in a wide area," he said. "On the other hand, we have the most sophisticated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the world. It is working well to give us those locations and allowing us to continue to target."

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