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One truth in Iraq, said Col. Bob Chapman, is the minds and hearts of Iraqis won’t be won if America drops bombs on them.

That’s why, the director of operations for U.S. Central Air Force Command said, great care is taken in the country before a bomb is dropped.

“We take collateral damage mitigation very seriously,” he said in a telephone interview from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. “Almost every weapon we drop is a precision munitions now.”

Every day in Iraq, Air Force planes drop bombs, providing close air support for troops on the ground or going after “high value targets,” such as leaders of the stubborn insurgency.

But in both cases, Air Force officers said, they try to limit or eliminate damage to noncombatants.

“We do a four-tier analysis on every target we go after,” said Maj. Jeff Reiman, an intelligence targeteer at Shaw.

First, planners draw a circle around a target, he said, to determine if any or how many buildings might be hit beyond the main target.

Next, use of a weapon is considered, he said. Perhaps a bomb will be used that will bore into the earth below the building before it explodes, “letting the earth do some work for us” by absorbing the blast, Reiman said.

The third tier examines the effects of the weapon beyond the target and will determine the angle used by the attacking aircraft to deliver the weapon.

The final look is an estimate of how many people beyond the target likely will be killed in the attack.

“I have to tell you, it’s a very conservative estimate that we use,” Reiman said. “It goes to worst case.”

The decision to bomb may be sent up the chain of command, going as high as the secretary of defense, if the estimated casualty figure is high.

For a close air support mission, the same analysis is used, but the determining factor may be different.

“We’re going to deliver fire and protect American lives when we need to,” Reiman said.

The Air Force continues to upgrade its technology in the region to better choose its targets. The unmanned aircraft called Predator can trace circles above a target and deliver video to commanders who make bombing decisions.

Recently, Chapman said, the Air Force began using the GBU-38, a 500-pound bomb guided by satellite. It is dropped almost perpendicular to the earth, he said.

“We’re able to contain the blast within that building,” he said.

More recently, said Lt. Col. Greg Harbin, CENTAF deputy director of operations, air controllers traveling with the Army received ROVER — a remotely-operated video enhanced receiver. This allows a controller to see on a laptop computer what a pilot sees on the cockpit video screen.

He said this helps in urban environments where buildings all look the same and the pilot may not recognize the target.

“To the guy on the ground, it may look like three buildings,” he said. But the pilot may see only one building with a common roof.

With ROVER, the ground controller will know if the pilot has identified the wrong target.

“I would have loved to have this on our trip to Baghdad the first time,” said Col. Byron Risner, CENTAF chief of combat operations at the Combined Air Operations Center, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, who accompanied the 3rd Infantry Division on the initial invasion of Iraq.

Back then, he said, controllers were able to call in airstrikes only on what they could see from the ground.

The officers said more efforts to improve targeting would be made as the insurgency continues along with America’s attempt to fight it.

“We’re not resting on our laurels,” said Chapman.


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