Aboard U.S. carrier in Gulf, crew respectful of Iraqi military power

ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (AP) — Iraq has the anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons to hit back against an American-led strike, the commander of this U.S. aircraft carrier said Tuesday.
“We believe they are capable of defending their country,” Capt. Lindell G. Rutherford told The Associated Press.
The 97,000-ton USS George Washington was one of two U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday, ready to launch warplanes if Washington decides to use force to end the standoff over U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq.
While he did not believe there would be heavy losses, he said, neither did he think any mission would be risk-free.
“We haven’t, obviously, flown against their defense capabilities now since 1991,” Rutherford said.
However, he said, U.S. warplanes had “comfortably” flown missions to the no-fly zone in southern Iraq, where Iraq is believed to have several surface-to-air defense posts.
A U.S.-led coalition created the no-fly zone after Iraq’s defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
During the war, the U.S.-led coalition lost 44 of the 2,600 aircraft used in the conflict, but that figure includes planes that crashed because of mechanical failure.
The USS Washington’s commander and pilots agreed that Iraq’s surface-to-air missiles are the biggest threat to any U.S. force now.
“It’s very tough to track them and it’s tough to see them … and that’s my biggest fear,” said Lt. Brian Fetter, an F-14 pilot from Chicago.
On Tuesday, about 300 sailors aboard the
George Washington kept busy fitting several warplanes with dummy weapons — including
claser-guided weapons — used in practicing strike missions on land and sea.