IN THE PERSIAN GULF REGION — After nearly two weeks of round-the-clock bombing, Navy pilots say Iraqi resistance in the air and at sea appears to be crumbling. But the dug-in Republican Guard troops, they say, are hanging tough.
Naval aviators say there has been a dramatic decrease in antiaircraft fire. They attribute this in part to their success in attacking Iraq's communications centers and early-warning forward observers, some of whom were stationed on Perian Gulf islands and oil platforms.
The reduced antiaircraft fire--which coincides with an increased number of combat sorties, including about 1,300 Tuesday--has left the Iraqi army and its supply lines vulnerable. Intelligence officers do not dismiss the military capability of the army--the only Iraqi service branch that has maintained combat effectiveness--but they point out that winning a war involves an integrated effort from all branches.
"It looks like the poor army guys have been left undefended by the air force and the antiaircraft artillery," said Cmdr. Mark Lawrence, intelligence officer for the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. "I think the army guys have been left to bury themselves. All those guys in the Republican Guard are getting bombed at will. They are just dug in, hunkered down."
With generally clear weather over Iraq and Kuwait on Monday and Tuesday, U.S. pilots destroyed two Silkworm missile sites and a petroleum complex control center near Basra in southern Iraq. "We've had a good day," said Rear Adm. Dave Frost, commander of the Roosevelt's Battle Group 8.
American and allied pilots have encountered virtually no Iraqi air force resistance for two days, and many commanders believe that the number of Iraqi planes seeking refuge in Iran is so large--about 90, according to the Pentagon--that their flight from the war zone represents a policy decision by Iraqi generals, if not by Saddam Hussein himself.
"Most of these planes are their top-of-the-line ground attack and fighter aircraft," Lawrence said. "It is a concerted effort by the air force to take out some of their aircraft and save them, knowing the war is going to be lost and that everything in Iraq is going to be destroyed.
"I don't think there is much strategy (on Iraq's part) now. I think that the air force is bugging out to protect themselves until after the war. I think the triple-A (antiaircraft artillery) is low on ammunition and low on the will to fight."
Lawrence told pool correspondents that allied forces have been "moderately" successful in knocking out bridges and other communications between Baghdad and the Kuwaiti front. He estimated that 50% to 75% of the targets have been destroyed but said some trains still are running between Baghdad and Kuwait. They are thought to be filled with men and hardware, not food, water or ammunition, he said.
A key element in the Navy's ability to cripple Iraq's air defense capabilities from the first day of the war has been the EA-6B Prowler, a four-man, radar-jamming jet. The electronics plane is so important, said one of the pilots, Lt. Steve Schwing, "that you would not run a strike without us. And if you do, you're insane."
Firing high-speed anti-radiation (HARM) missiles that bear down on Iraqi surface-to-air missile sites, the Prowlers in effect open a hole in the sky for U.S. fliers. What the Iraqis see on their radar screens when the Prowlers jam the Iraqi's electronics is not American jets but what appears to be bicycle spokes or pie-shaped wedges or screens filled with snow.
Intelligence officers said the Iraqis often react by shutting off their radar to avoid being targeted by the HARM missiles. This blinds their missile guidance systems, greatly reducing what otherwise would present a serious threat to the allied bombing campaign.
"The poor guys (Iraqis) never had a chance, with the number of air raids that we have going in there," Lawrence said.
This article was written in part from Pentagon combat pool reports reviewed by U.S. military censors.