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Gary Tuchman: No letup in coalition air campaign

CNN's Gary Tuchman
CNN's Gary Tuchman

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SPECIAL REPORT
•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models

(CNN) -- CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman was at a coalition air base Monday near the Iraqi border and talked to CNN Anchor Leon Harris about increased bombing activity.

HARRIS: Gary, from what I see, it looks like there's no sign of any slowing down there. ...

TUCHMAN: Night has fallen here in the Persian Gulf region. It is the 11th straight night of this tense coalition bombing campaign, and as you said, Leon, there is no letup at this very busy air base near the border of Iraq.

If you live near a busy international airport, it could be very noisy, but usually in the dead of night, it gets quiet. But here -- whether it's 4 in the afternoon or 4 in the morning -- you still have the same intense decibel level.

When you go to sleep, you don't know if the airplane noise is part of your dream or part of your reality, but you hear it every five or 10 minutes.

And as embedded journalists, we sleep in tents, and for seven or eight or 10 days now, we've heard that consistently. There's never more than a 15-minute break before you hear the loud jet noise overhead with airplanes going to Iraq.

We do want to tell you at this particular base, which is one of the busiest bays in the theater, in the most recent 24-hour period, [there have been] 253 sorties. Overall, [with] more than 30 bases in 12 different countries in the Middle East, [there have been] a total of 1,800 sorties over the last 24 hours.

That's about 75 missions into Iraq every hour. Of those sorties, 80 percent of them are strike sorties, which use bombs or missiles going into Iraq.

We do want to tell you that the Air Force is making this very plain this quote. They say, "If they fly, they die," referring to the Iraqi air force. They say Iraq still has at least 300 fighter planes -- many have been destroyed -- but they still have planes on the ground. ...

We've talked to pilots as they've gotten off their airplanes, and none of them has seen an Iraqi plane flying in the sky during the 11 days of this intense coalition bombing campaign.

The Air Force is telling us it has complete control of the skies and adds it has something else on its side -- the weather. During the last 11 days, there's been about 1 1/2 days of bad weather. The rest of the time, the weather has been perfect for flying, and tonight, there is no moon out, which makes it even better for the coalition aircraft as they fly to Iraq.

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.


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