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Can we do it alone' Yes, we can: US navy

Aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, Feb. 10 (Reuters): As some of Washington’s allies hesitate to send forces to join a war against Iraq, US navy pilots in the Gulf say their warplanes could overwhelm Iraq without help if necessary.

“It would be much more difficult (to fight a conflict without a coalition) than if we would fight it with a coalition. Could we do it without a coalition' Yes,” Scott “Notso” Swift, deputy commander of the air wing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, said yesterday.

“Could we do it alone with Naval Forces' Yes, we could do it alone with the Air Force as well. But that is not the way we fight,” he said.

“I don’t foresee that happening at all. The coalition is very strong.” Germany and France, backed by Russia, have said they want to beef up UN weapons inspections rather than rush to war but US President George W. Bush has repeatedly indicated that time is running out for Iraq.

The Lincoln has just arrived back in the Gulf to join the USS Constellation in support of Operation Southern Watch, patrolling a “no-fly” zone over southern Iraq.

The Lincoln’s crew were heading home at the end of last year when they were ordered to turn around off the coast of Australia and return to the Gulf as part of a US buildup for possible war on Iraq over its alleged weapons of mass destruction.

With more than 70 aircraft aboard and accompanied by a group of warships armed with cruise missiles, the Lincoln could play a key role in an air war. “I wouldn’t hazard a guess to say (how long the air war will be),” Swift said.

“I think we have got overwhelming force. But with combat there is no way to make a prediction on that.”

Swift said the US now had a much larger naval presence in the region than in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War.

“There is a significant navy presence here now. That’s because you are never quite sure if we will be able to fly off land bases and of course the Navy doesn’t have those kinds of restraints,” he said.

“The expectation is we will have three carriers in the Gulf and two in the Med.”

The key development since the last Gulf War has been the improvement in precision weapons, Swift said.

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