- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

From combined dispatches
ABOARD THE USS ENTERPRISE Lt. Cmdr. Eric was prepared to take on Taliban pilots, but there were apparently none to fight.
"We were briefed to be a combat air patrol," the American pilot said on his aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea, describing for reporters the first wave of combat flights Sunday night into Afghanistan. Rather than fighting Taliban aircraft, however, they were switched at the last moment before takeoff to striking ground targets.
Eric, 34, of Virginia Beach, wouldn't say what his target was, but he did report direct hits. The U.S. military is not allowing any members of the U.S. forces to be fully identified.
Other pilots speaking to reporters yesterday described the same shift from air-to-air to air-to-ground missions, indicating the Taliban was unable to pose much of a threat, if any, with its aircraft.
Some pilots spoke yesterday of running into relatively heavy anti-aircraft missile fire or spotting unguided surface-to-air missiles; others encountered only light weapons fire.
Pilots from the Enterprise flew about 70 sorties Sunday and into yesterday as the United States began its attack on Afghanistan, which harbors Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States.
U.S. officials said the targets included terrorist training camps, military airfields, military aircraft, air defense radars and surface-to-air missile sites.
Cmdr. Andrew L., 38, of Los Altos, Calif., said his target was a terrorist training camp in southern Afghanistan where there were "pretty significant signs of activity," including lights. The F-18 pilot said his mission was aimed at specific targets in the camp, and those were hit.
"There are quite a few other things left," he said. "I wouldn't say that the camp has been taken down by us."
He said that he ran into only light weapons fire.
Pilots also dropped humanitarian packets designed to flutter to the ground to minimize the chance they would injure people. The air drop of 37,000 kits of food and medicine Sunday was intended to show Afghans that the United States was after terrorists, not ordinary people. Hunger is widespread in Afghanistan, a country devastated by war and drought.
The military made "extraordinary efforts" to limit collateral damage, the admiral of the USS Enterprise battle group told reporters. "Our objective is to terrorize the terrorists."
The captain of the USS Enterprise said the infrared camera images showed a "very high success rate in hitting our targets," with one strike deeply penetrating an underground target that he would not reveal.
The captain said the pilot involved in that strike told him the hillside opened up with small arms fire immediately afterward.
He said another image showed the bombing of an anti-aircraft missile storage site. The initial explosion was followed by a second explosion that sent at least one missile from the site into the air.
The captain said return fire also came in the form of one SA3 and shoulder-fired unguided missiles, which he described as "stupid missiles."
The captain of the USS Philippine Sea, a guided missile cruiser with the Enterprise battle group that fired four Tomahawk missiles on Sunday night, said "things went pretty smoothly."
"As far as what's ahead, I think the military action last night created a more favorable condition to pursue terrorists, at the same time allowing humanitarian aid to the Afghan people," the Philippine Sea captain said.
The 15 hours of flight operations had begun with an announcement over the aircraft carrier's loudspeaker: "To our air wing, godspeed."
The Enterprise is the flagship of a battle group that includes about a dozen ships and 7,500 personnel. It was just two days into its trip home from the Gulf when the terror attacks on the United States hit. It quickly turned around.
On the Enterprise flight deck yesterday, pilots were reloading their weapons. Some of the bombs carried scribbled reminders of the victims of the Sept. 11 terror strikes on the United States "NYPD" and "FDNY" and "4WTC" for those police officers, firefighters and civilians who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center.
Aboard the USS Philippine Sea, sailors and officers also seemed to accept they were in for more action. Four Tomahawk missiles fired on Afghanistan Sunday night came from the cruiser.
The executive officer of the Philippine Sea urged officers yesterday morning to "encourage your folks" and keep training.
"It's not over," the executive officer, E.J., from Austin, Texas, told the officers aboard. "Yesterday was merely one more step of many, many steps along a long, long road."
Lt. Patrick, the Philippine Sea's chaplain from Annapolis, said the strikes improved the mood of sailors who previously felt powerless. "There was a sense of something being done they had a small part to play," the 36-year-old Southern Baptist minister said.
Ensign Andrew, 23, of Clinton, N.J., said that after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, he'd immediately received about 35 e-mails from family in the New York area and friends around the world.
"I was very happy to hear my family was fine. Then, once I knew that, there was no place I'd rather be than here. If I wasn't in the Navy, I would've enlisted," the ensign aboard the Philippine Sea said.

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