ABOARD THE USS HARRY S. TRUMAN—Despite successes, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem has asked crews flying from the two carriers in the eastern Mediterranean how quickly they could increase the coverage they are providing to ground forces.
"There's still a significant amount of work to do to secure the north," he said.
Ten Republican Army divisions and a Republican brigade unit remain in the major cities, Stufflebeem said. Even if their battle effectiveness is down 50 percent—the current estimate—"that's still 75,000 to 80,000 troops," he said.
Iraqi forces fled the northern city of Kirkuk on Thursday, but one of the carrier-based pilots who flew Wednesday night said he saw more anti-aircraft artillery fire than ever around Mosul, northwest of Kirkuk.
In addition, Baath Party members in the cities are "doing some really remarkable things to force the troops to stay on their weapons," Stufflebeem said.
The two carriers, the Truman and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, have been providing 24-hour coverage over northern Iraq.
Stufflebeem said the crews and planes are "showing just a little bit of wear and tear," but that he has asked them "to think through if we have to surge because of a big offensive or a big problem with the guys in the dirt, and to think about how you can quickly ramp up and add more aircraft into the already 24-hour coverage."
He compared the war in the north with a baseball game: "We're not exactly sure which inning this is, so we've got to keep pacing ourselves and anticipating still being busy for a while."
He has told his crew to "stay focused and deal with today and tomorrow and try not to worry about the end of the month."
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He has considered several scenarios.
One is that the news that the coalition has wrested control from the regime in the south could "have a cascading effect in the north, which would mean very quickly things could stop."
On the other hand, the "bad folks in the south" may have fled or be fleeing north, and "they may decide to just stay and fight it out to their death, so they're the ones who are driving the tempo of what we might face."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.