U.S. Declares Air Supremacy In Iraq

Air Force B-52 bomber returning from a mission over Iraq is refueling from a KC-10 plane over the Black Sea, Friday, March 28, 2003. The refueling plane belongs to the 409th U.S. Air Force
The United States declared air supremacy over all of Iraq on Tuesday, asserting its warplanes can fly anywhere with impunity, even though an Air Force attack plane was shot down near Baghdad.

Until now the Pentagon had said it owned the skies over all of Iraq except in the Baghdad area and over Tikrit, the hometown of President Saddam Hussein, where air defenses were the strongest.

"Coalition air forces have established air supremacy over the entire country, which means the enemy is incapable of effective interference with coalition air operations," Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, told a news conference.

He did not mention that an Air Force A-10 warplane was shot down near Baghdad on Tuesday. It is believed to be the first allied aircraft other than a helicopter to be downed by an Iraqi surface-to-air missile since the war began March 20. U.S. Central Command officials said the pilot ejected safely, was recovered by allied ground forces and was in good condition.

Iraq began the war with formidable air defenses in the Baghdad and Tikrit areas, which had not been damaged by years of American and British airstrikes in "no-fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq. Iraq's offensive air forces are weak, and not a single Iraqi aircraft has taken off to challenge allied planes.

McChrystal said allied aircraft are focusing on supporting American ground forces in and around Baghdad, attacking remnants of Iraq's Republican Guard and striking "time-sensitive" targets like the Baghdad building where U.S. intelligence believed a meeting was under way involving Saddam and at least one son.

McChrystal would not say Saddam was the target of that B-1B bomber strike Monday. He described the attack as "very, very effective" and said the enormous hole punched into the ground by four one-ton bombs was "where we wanted it to be." He would not describe the target.

Eliminating Saddam would be militarily significant, McChrystal said, even if it did not cause the immediate collapse of Iraqi resistance.

"He still controls elements of the Special Republican Guard and death squads," he said. "And his role as military commander and dictator, moral leader of that regime, he and a group of others, probably militarily are key" factors, to the extent they can exert influence.

"We'd like to reduce that," he said.

Asked about a U.S. Army tank attack on Baghdad's Hotel Palestine, in which three journalists were killed, McChrystal said it was an act of self-defense by the U.S. soldiers, who reported they had come under fire from the hotel.

"They had the inherent right of self-defense," McChrystal said. "When they are fired at, they have not only the right to respond, they have the obligation to respond to protect the soldiers with them and to accomplish the mission at large."

Separately, a Jordanian correspondent for the Arab television network al-Jazeera was killed Tuesday when a U.S. bomb landed on the network's Baghdad office.

Victoria Clarke, spokeswoman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said she had cautioned American and other news organizations since before the outbreak of war that Baghdad would be dangerous.

"We've had conversations over the last couple of days, news organizations eager to get their people unilaterally into Baghdad," she said. "We are saying it is not a safe place; you should not be there."