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US Pilots Focus on Taliban Troops
By CHRIS TOMLINSON
© The Associated Press
ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (AP) - U.S. jets have shifted from attacking
fixed targets to hunting down Taliban troops and tanks and supporting U.S.
soldiers on the ground, the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt battle group
Rear Adm. Mark Fitzgerald said planes from the Roosevelt supported U.S. special
operations troops in a ground attack inside Afghanistan. He declined to provide
details, saying only that the mission was successful.
"We have gotten away from going after the big targets because there aren't any,
so we have shifted to taking out those targets that impact on the ground
battle,'' Fitzgerald said. "It's all trying to take away their capability to
Fighter pilots have been assigned to 30-square-mile "kill zones'' to look for
troop concentrations or armored vehicles, he said. Pilots must then confirm
their targets with air controllers before attacking, Navy officers said.
"Once you get in a kill zone, there are a lot of targets - you just have to
identify one that is militarily significant,'' said a Marine Corps fighter pilot
from Indianapolis code-named "Simple.'' He said he returned to the ship on the
second night without dropping his bombs because he could not be sure of his
The Marine Corps' VMFA-251 ``Thunderbolt'' Squadron, normally stationed outside
Charleston, S.C., is the first Marine unit confirmed to be participating in the
campaign against the Taliban. While assigned to a Navy air wing, Marine pilots
flying F/A-18C Hornet attack planes have specialized training in providing air
cover for ground troops.
The crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt launched another round of airstrikes just
before midnight Sunday, catapulting U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat fighters, EA-6B
Prowler surveillance planes and Marine attack jets.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt, based in Norfolk, Va., is one of four Navy battle
groups in the Arabian Sea. The other battle groups are led by the aircraft
carriers USS Carl Vinson, USS Enterprise and the USS Kitty Hawk, which Pentagon
officials have said is being used as a helicopter base for special operations
A battle group can include as many as a dozen ships. An amphibious assault
vessel with 2,200 Marines on board usually accompanies each group.
The Roosevelt's 76 planes have flown mostly at night. The carrier is home to
5,500 sailors and Marines, who now wake up at 6 p.m. and work through the night
and sleep during the day.
At the Pentagon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen.
Richard B. Myers, showed video Saturday of special operations troops parachuting
onto an airfield in southern Pakistan. He said troops also attacked a Taliban
command center outside of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.
Meyers also confirmed that two American soldiers were killed and three injured
when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in southern Pakistan. He denied Taliban
claims that they shot the helicopter down.
Fitzgerald said missions such as flying helicopters at low altitude at night or
fighting on the ground are extremely dangerous.
"War is not a very antiseptic thing. It's a very intensive operation that we are
conducting out here. We are striking targets, we are killing people on the
ground, that is what war is all about.'' Fitzgerald said. "We try to manage the
risk, but risk is inherent in war. People get killed."