KUWAIT -- 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing's commanding general recently spoke candidly with a group of embedded media here about the Wing's role in Operation Iraqi Freedom Maj. Gen. James F. Amos described the coordinated effort that has allowed coalition forces to reach Baghdad in just two weeks.
"Everything was focused on southeastern Iraq during the first 48 hours," he said.
Just as Marine Aviators have done in previous conflicts, the flying leathernecks of 3rd MAW have taken to the air, night and day, to support Marines on the ground. Of the initial strikes conducted by 3rd MAW, Maj. Gen. Amos says, "our priority was things that could kill our infantry from a distance."
Unforeseen dust storms added an additional challenge to waging the first hours of an already complex air campaign.
"Finding the hidden artillery was challenging because of the weather," Maj. Gen. Amos said.
In spite of poor atmospheric conditions early in the fight, the Wing was able to "shape" the Iraqi forces in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force's area of responsibility. An early validation of the Marine Air Ground Task Force concept manifested itself in Wing and 1st Marine Division assets teaming up to prevent Iraqi forces from blowing large numbers of oil wells.
"Division did a remarkable job in obtaining their strategic objective of securing the oil fields in the southeast," Maj. Gen. Amos said.
The purpose of the mission to take the oil wells intact was twofold; prevent ecological disaster from burning oil, and preserve the petroleum infrastructure for the future prosperity of the Iraqi people, according to Maj. Gen. Amos.
"We're not here to conquer or take the oil," he said. "Our goal is to remove Saddam Hussein, remove the regime and return the control of the country and its resources to the Iraqi people."
With a strategic objective decisively achieved, enemy units in the field soon became the focus of the Wing's air power.
"At about day seven, we said, we're going to have to pay the Baghdad Division a visit," said Maj. Gen. Amos.
According to the general, flights of F/A-18s were launched a few hours apart to attack the Baghdad Division at Al Kut.
"We struck them ... the idea was to wake them up and let them know the Marines were coming," he said.
In addition to the Baghdad Division, the Iraqi 10th Armored Division at Al Amara felt the potent punch of Marine Air.
"We stayed focused on the 10th and the Baghdad Division until April 2," said Maj. Gen. Amos.
In addition to F/A-18s, the Marine Corps' sub-sonic strike aircraft, the AV-8B Harrier, has played a prominent role in destroying enemy armor and other targets.
"The Harriers have really jumped in on this thing ...the magnification and clarity of their Lightning II pods has given us amazing granularity," said the general.
He spoke of strike coordinated armed reconnaissance (SCAR) teams that roamed the Iraqi skies "like sharks." Iraqi armor and artillery emplacements became part of the hunting ground's landscape for these hunter-killer teams that engaged them one at a time, day and night, according to Amos. "Battle handovers," the technique of pilots passing fresh, real time target information to each other, enabled Marine aircrews to relentlessly pursue the Baghdad Division.
Navy and Air Force aircraft have been actively helping Marines take the fight to the enemy's Al Nida Armored Division as the focus of the Corps' air campaign shifts to the north and east of Baghdad. Amos credits Coalition Forces Air Component Commander, Air Force Lt. Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley, with systematically diminishing Baghdad's robust missile engagement zone.
"His effort has enabled us to operate over Baghdad with impunity," said Maj. Gen. Amos.
Reflecting on the success of the air campaign, Amos shies away from the notion that air power alone can win wars.
"Operation Iraqi Freedom has brought everyone back to the ground truth ... that ground truth is that air power provides an enormous force multiplier, but it can't take and hold ground," he said. "At the end of the day, we exist to support the Marines on the ground. We feel very good about our air-ground team."
The MAGTF concept seemed to take on a personal meaning as the general described the current task at hand for his Wing as coalition ground forces close in on Baghdad.
Holding true to Marine Aviation's fundamental reason for being, he said, "My job is to destroy every piece of equipment the Al Nida Division has before it can be used against my good friend Maj. Gen. Jim Mattis and his Marines of the 1st Marine Division. We've been hitting them, and I'm confident that we've been successful."