By Staff Sgt. Amanda Callahan, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 28, 2008 - A top Air Force officer here praised the joint-service effort that has made Operation Marne Thunderbolt successful. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon and B-1B Lancer crews, Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilots, Army 3rd Infantry Division soldiers and Iraqi forces integrated with Army intelligence to shape the battlefield to protect ground soldiers in southern Iraq, Air Force Maj. Gen. David M. Edgington, director of Multinational Force Iraq's Air Component Coordination Element, told reporters here yesterday.
He described how the Air Force uses intelligence in operations to shape the battlefield for an Army advantage, recounting one mission in which Air Force B-1B Lancers and F-16 Fighting Falcons disposed of improvised explosive devices, which were a significant threat to ground forces.
"The Air Force provides air components to synchronize with joint-force commanders," Edgington said. "We develop target sets to figure out what targets we're able to strike that will make the battle space safer for ground troops who follow."
The general explained that, with today's technology, much consideration is given to the types of munitions used on specific targets, as well as ways to reduce or eliminate collateral damage.
"Technology has advanced to where we can now drop bombs with great precision," he said.
Targets included houses booby-trapped with explosives and deeply buried improvised explosive devices.
"We hit the targets (the Army) asked us to hit to make it more safe for them to achieve their mission," Edgington said. "By taking out IEDs with air strikes, we're saving the lives of soldiers on the ground."
The emphasis on precision strikes and a focus on reducing civilian casualties also has helped battlefield commanders gain ground with local populations, the general said.
"Concerned local citizens have stepped up because they are tired of the violence and want to secure their areas," he said. "They want to be legitimate members of society, and they want their children to go out and play soccer without fear."
At the same meeting with reporters, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of 3rd Infantry Division and Multinational Division Center, emphasized the joint nature of modern combat.
"It is a joint battlefield," he said, outlining the coalition's three main goals of blocking accelerants of violence into Baghdad, securing the population, and defeating sectarian violence.
"We turned to our brothers in the U.S. Air Force," he said, for help with intelligence gathering and target mapping using intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets such as the unmanned MQ-1A Predator.
Both generals said operational success depends on the ability of warfighters to team up in the joint environment.
"At the captain level, at the master sergeant level, it is inspiring to see how the services work together to get the mission done," Edgington said.
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Amanda Callahan serves in public affairs with 447th Air Expeditionary Group.)