Air patrols along Iran-Iraq border

LA Times:

The Air Force is preparing for an expanded role in Iraq that could include aggressive new tactics designed to deter Iranian assistance to Iraqi militants, senior Pentagon officials said.

The efforts could include more forceful patrols by Air Force and Navy fighter planes along the Iran-Iraq border to counter the smuggling of bomb supplies from Iran, a senior Pentagon official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing future military plans.

Such missions also could position the Air Force to strike suspected bomb suppliers inside Iraq to deter Iranian agents that U.S. officials say are assisting Iraqi militias, outside military experts said.

The heightened role of U.S. air power in the volatile region is the latest sign of tension between President Bush and Iran's leaders.

...

"Air power plays major roles, and one of those is as a deterrent, whether it be in border control, air sovereignty or something more kinetic," said the senior Pentagon official, using a term that refers to offensive military action.

...

Within the Pentagon, many active-duty officers are wary of an aggressive military response to Iran, arguing that there is no need to risk starting another war.

Some Pentagon officials worry that an escalation of military pressure that included strikes on Iranian territory could prompt Iran to go after targets it could easily hit, such as oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

"We need to be very careful about getting into one-to-one trades," the senior Pentagon official said. "That can very quickly get out of control."

Other military officers argue there may be no need for "kinetic" strikes. It is possible that stepped-up air operations over Iraq could provide a deterrent, they say.

The Air Force already is gearing up for just such a role in Iraq as part of Bush's planned troop increase, said a senior service official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

...
As Strategy Page points out, the Predator is really better suited for patrolling the border. Even if air strikes were used for interdiction, air assets in these situations are not as effective as ground troops because the air operations involved transitory power, i.e. they are only on station for a short period of time. Troops on the other hand present an obstacle to infiltration that forces the enemy to confront them or avoid them. Using air power to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trails was pretty ineffective. It inconvenienced the enemy but did not stop him.

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