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Sunday, March 23

Pace aboard aircraft carrier moderates, but not by much

By William H. McMichael | Navy TImes

ABOARD THE USS CONSTELLATION, Persian Gulf -The pace of air strikes launched from the carrier USS Constellation slowed slightly with pilots who flew over Baghdad reported lighter-than-expected resistance as they continued the "shock and awe" campaign.

Pilots from the carrier flew more than 45 combat sorties that included 28 specific targets in the vicinity of Baghdad and various other cities beginning Saturday and continuing into early-morning Sunday, according to Rear Adm. Barry M. Costello, commander of the Constellation Carrier Battle Group.

"To our knowledge, the strikes were successful," Costello said.

Cmdr. Kevin Greene, commander of Strike-Fighter Squadron 151, had briefed pilots to expect an "intense" flight, but pilots said anti-aircraft fire was not as heavy as it had been.

"It was less than the first night," said Lt. j.g. Scott Worthington from Seattle, Wash. "Not nearly as much."

The activity represented a slight decrease from the 50 combat sorties launched Friday night. Those sorties, combined other air strikes from other planes, carriers and cruise missiles, produced the vivid images of explosions in downtown Baghdad that have been repeatedly featured on news broadcasts.

Meanwhile, allied land forces continued to encounter Iraqi resistance at Umm Qasr in southeastern Iraq, Costello said.

"It remains a dangerous environment," he said.

Costello stressed the importance of taking and holding Umm Qasr, which will be a key port for unloading humanitarian aid.

The land battle for Umm Qasr continued in earnest Sunday, with additional U.S. tanks being called in as reinforcements.

And about 50 miles to the southeast of Umm Qasr, U.S. and British ships continued a painstakingly slow sweep for mines.

"The Iraqis are supposed to have a significant number of mines," Costello said.