B-2 Bombers From Missouri Hit Libyan Targets

Steve Inskeep talks to two Americans involved in the bombing campaign in Libya. First he speaks to Brig. Gen. Scott Vander Hamm, 509th Bomb Wing Commander from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Vander Hamm supervised the weekend's B-2 combat missions in Libya. Inskeep also talks to Marine Capt. Michael Wyrsch from the U.S.S. Kearsarge, who has been flying a Harrier jet to enforce the no-fly zone.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's hear now from two Americans involved in the bombing campaign. The first is Brigadier General Scott Vander Hamm, who's at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. B-2 bombers flew out of that base to Libya and back over the weekend.

General, welcome to the program.

Brigadier General SCOTT VANDER HAMM (U.S. Air Force): Good morning. Welcome to both you and Renee.

INSKEEP: Thank you. As much as you can tell us, what were your targets?

Gen. VANDER HAMM: We were targeted against 45 different hardened aircraft shelters in the city of Sirte, which is kind of in the middle of the gulf there.

INSKEEP: Oh yeah. Gadhafi's hometown.

Gen. VANDER HAMM: Gadhafi's hometown. Yes, sir.

INSKEEP: And how'd you do?

Gen. VANDER HAMM: We did quite well. Of course the B-2 flies and uses a precision-guided munition. And in these particular shelters we used a penetrating weapon that was fused to go in and do damage to those helicopters or aircraft that were inside, to limit his ability to fly and kill his own folks.

INSKEEP: And did you succeed?

Gen. VANDER HAMM: We succeeded. We succeeded. The battle damage was good. And it will further limit his ability to fly, and then allow other forces to follow on and enforce that U.N. mandated no-fly zone.

INSKEEP: General, I want to ask what must be one of the more challenging questions here. You talk about the B-2 bombers targeting aircraft shelters. Presumably those are on military bases. They're military targets. But the U.N. here is authorizing this no-fly zone to protect civilians. What are you doing when the target is in a civilian area or, as with Gadhafi's own compound, civilians have been brought into what might be a target area?

Gen. VANDER HAMM: Steve, the B-2 is used specifically only in this one area. Those are the only targets we were asked to fly against. We haven't asked to fly against any others. If we had been asked to fly, we would use, of course, intelligence. And we would use different size weapons. We carry anything from a 500 pound weapon all the way up to a 5,000 or larger pound munition.

And if you're asked to target in and around certain areas where collateral damage is a concern - and it always is to an airman - we would, of course, use the correct fusing and smaller weapons to limit any collateral damage.

INSKEEP: Is - well, if civilians are used as human shields at military targets, what are your orders?

Gen. VANDER HAMM: We would not we would not strike those targets if civilians were involved. We've been tasked specifically against military targets or targets of a military nature.

INSKEEP: Suppose that this bombing campaign has to stretch out. At what point does it become a strain on resources?

Gen. VANDER HAMM: Strain on resources? You know, we are a small base, a small fleet. We have just 20 of us. Any bombing campaign, of course, is a strain on resources. And I don't know if your listeners understand that we fly very long-duration sorties from the middle of Missouri - sometimes 25, 30 or in excess of that - to get to the target and all the way home. So that continues to be not just a strain on us and our aircraft, but we put a stress on the mobility aircraft - the tankers that provide a bridge to us to get wherever we go in the world.

INSKEEP: Okay. General, thanks very much.

Gen. VANDER HAMM: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Scott Vander Hamm, a brigadier general in Missouri.

Let's go next to Captain Michael D. Wyrsch. He's been flying a Harrier jet from the deck of the USS Kearsarge, which is in the Mediterranean Sea.

Welcome to the program, Captain.

Captain MICHAEL D. WYRSCH (U.S. Marines): Thank you, Steve. Good morning, Renee.

INSKEEP: What was your last mission?

Capt. WYRSCH: Sir, I was on the first night of the campaign when we were asked to go in and assess the Libyan forces - Saturday night, sir.

INSKEEP: You say assess the Libyan forces. So you weren't dropping bombs on them. You were trying to get a sense of where their tanks and armored vehicles were?

Capt. WYRSCH: Yes, sir. Our targets were south of - targets south of Benghazi. As Eric said, Gadhafi's forces were south of Benghazi pressing north towards the city and the rebels up there. And our initial targets were the main elements would be the tanks and the anti-air pieces in that - in the convoy.

INSKEEP: We have seen from photographers on the ground what the results look like - tanks destroyed and blown all along the road there. What did that scene look like from the air, Captain?

Capt. WYRSCH: Well, it was certainly surreal. You know, it was a nighttime mission for us. So when we were approaching the land from our ship, we could see that the Air Force was their first, and we could certainly see targets that they had prosecuted very successfully prior to us getting there.

The enemy force on the ground was very large. There were still many tanks on the ground, rocket launchers that had been firing into Benghazi, and they were pretty easy to pick out on the side of the highways. They were certainly still established in there.

INSKEEP: Is it hard for you to know what you're hitting?

Capt. WYRSCH: Well, sir, we have - the intelligence department here on the Kearsarge, it's part of the MEU(ph). They've done an outstanding job of providing imagery and, you know, up to the minute that we walk, it's one of the unique capabilities that the MEU provides.

You know, before I got in the aircraft I was given, you know, grids - updated grids within an hour of where the enemy forces were located.

INSKEEP: Rapid information. Captain, one last...

Capt. WYRSCH: ...out there, it was very easy. Within minutes we were able to locate the locate the targets that we were targeting out there.

INSKEEP: Captain, one last question, but very briefly before I let you go. There's been anti-craft fire over Tripoli, presumably elsewhere. Is there much opposition when you're flying?

Capt. WYRSCH: No, sir. That was certainly a concern. Prior to, you know, prior to our first mission we were very concerned about some of the threats that you see on the news - the SA5, the SA2, the SA3 and the SA8.

INSKEEP: Anti-aircraft missiles.

Capt. WYRSCH: However, we've got certain aircraft out there that can help mitigate those threats.

INSKEEP: All right, Captain Michael Wyrsch, thanks very much. I really appreciate you taking the time.

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