Navy outlines plans for ‘lightning quick’ strike against Iraq

ABOARD THE USS CONSTELLATION-An unprecedented barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from more than 30 Navy ships in the Persian Gulf would most likely kick off a "lightning quick" United States war against Iraq, according to Rear Adm. Barry Costello, commander of the aircraft carrier Constellation Battle Group. "Between the Tomahawks and the air assets we will create an environment where land forces can succeed. We will pave the way for them," Costello told about a dozen reporters in a Wednesday morning press conference aboard the Constellation in the northern Persian Gulf. About 70 U.S. ships, including three aircraft carriers, and 60 vessels from allied countries are positioned around the Arabian Peninsula awaiting combat. Costello said a similar number of ships were in the region for the Persian Gulf War, but the firepower offered today is much stronger.

Costello's comments were the first glimpse about how a war against Iraq might unfold from the sea.

Costello said the war would be "quick and fast." He predicted it would be shorter than Operation Desert Storm because the United States is familiar with the region, having operated here for 12 years enforcing no-fly zones and monitoring ships leaving and entering Iraqi waterways. Costello also noted that United States and coalition forces have already taken out most air defense sites in southern Iraq as part of efforts to enforce a no-fly zone in the region.

Costello cautioned, however, that robust air defense capabilities await U.S. warplanes further north around Baghdad.

Costello said "smart bombs"-highly precise munitions guided by the Global Positioning System-would also allow for a quicker war. In 1991, the United States mostly used less precise, unguided "dumb bombs" that often required three or four separate aircraft to take out a single target. Now, Costello said, guided bombs will allow a single warplane to take out multiple targets on a single mission. He said smart bombs would also help U.S. forces lessen damage to those parts of the Iraqi infrastructure, such as power plants and roadways, that would hurt the country's people.

Costello said there is no indication Iraq is planning a sea mine warfare campaign in the Persian Gulf as it did in 1991, when two Navy ships struck mines. He said ships in his battle group completed an anti-mine warfare exercise in the southern Persian Gulf off the coast of Bahrain on Tuesday.

Costello said that in the 24 hours preceding his briefing, 27 aircraft launched from the Constellation flew missions over southern Iraq. They did not strike at air defense sites, but rather dropped 120,000 leaflets as part of an "information warfare" campaign. He said the leaflets, written in Arabic, urged Iraqis to tune to a certain radio frequency to hear a U.S. message about the possibility of war and warned them of the dangers poised by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

On the waterways, U.S. and coalition forces have stopped 15 ships leaving Iraq illegally since Tuesday. All were turned around and sent back to Iraq.

Costello declined to offer a timeline for when the war might start, but said he'd prefer a diplomatic solution rather than conflict. "The world is ready for a solution. The world has been working this problem for 12 years," he said.

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