KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — The coalition attacking Iraq is prepared to switch to a massive humanitarian assistance operation, the U.S. general in charge of air operations over Iraq said Sunday.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Daniel Leaf also said Operation Iraqi Freedom is going faster than he and planners thought, but cautioned that no one can predict the future.

“It’s going more rapidly than predicted … but there is resistance,” said Leaf, the air component coordination element director for the Coalition Land Forces Command. “If we compare (this to) the beginning of the Normandy invasion of World War II … we are making very, very rapid progress.”

Leaf addressed about 150 reporters at a hotel outside Kuwait City.

He said roughly 1,600 coalition planes are flying from 30 bases in 12 countries and from five aircraft carriers.

“We are absolutely deliberate” in our targeting, and “it’s been dangerous, hard work,” said Leaf, who wore a flight suit.

Leaf said he had no information on a report that a British jet returning from a mission into Iraq was missing after being hit by a U.S. Patriot missile in northern Kuwait. He said an investigation would be completed soon.

Leaf said he views the war as one being fought with one hand clenched in a fist and the other hand open.

The fist represents the military might to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power, Leaf said. The open hand shows that the coalition is willing and able to help the country and bring humanitarian aid.

Planes and crews are prepared to begin delivering that assistance, Leaf said, but that operation hasn’t begun.

Leaf did not say when and how the aid would be delivered, but during the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan, Air Force planes, many taking off from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, dropped specially prepared Meals, Ready to Eat into the country.

Part of the military success so far, the general said, is keyed to the combination of weapons and types of planes being used.

He noted more planes are loaded with better weapons than in previous conflicts. He specifically cited bombers that now can carry Joint Direct Attack Munitions, “smart bombs,” that can be targeted using satellites to hit multiple targets.

The weapons being used are “nothing I would describe as unconventional,” he said during 30 minutes of questioning. “We’ve worked to develop a synergy of different weapons and platforms.”

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