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Sources: Warplanes to begin supporting ground troops

Switch marks new mission for coalition aircraft in Iraq

A catapult crewman protects his ears as an F/A-18 Hornet is launched during flight operations aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

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ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CNN) -- Warplanes aboard this aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea will move away from carefully crafted bombing missions in Iraq to fly less-structured support missions for ground troops, according to sources on the Roosevelt.

The new missions will fly into "air interdiction zones" that military planners have laid out across Iraq. The switch will mark a significant change in the use of coalition air assets in the conflict.

Warplane launches will be increased, and planes will be authorized to attack targets of opportunity and to supply close air support to ground troops if they are summoned, sources told CNN's Gary Strieker, who is embedded with troops on the Roosevelt.

Pilots on the ship have said they feel constrained in their bombing missions but are now "very psyched about the mission they have ahead of them," Strieker said.

It was not immediately known if the changes applied to aircraft on other carriers.

The changes came in the wake of a decision by Turkey to grant U.S. aircraft access to its airspace, making sorties into northern Iraq easier for the U.S. Navy and Air Force.

To take advantage of the agreement, the Roosevelt has steamed closer to Turkey.

Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force officials said Tuesday that Iraq has not flown a single sortie since the war began.

Iraq has more than 300 fighter planes, but not one has flown during the war, said U.S. Air Force Col. Cesar Rodriguez, the operations commander of a base at an undisclosed location near the Iraqi border.

Eighty percent of the warplanes from that base have been fired on by surface-to-air missiles or antiaircraft artillery since the war began, none of which has hit, Rodriguez said.

-- CNN correspondent Gary Tuchman contributed to this story.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details. CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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