A MARINE AIR BASE -- U.S. Marine Harrier jets hunting for Iraqi tanks and artillery just over the Saudi Arabian border have begun using napalm bombs to destroy their targets, pilots and ordnance crews said yesterday.
The pilots also said they have been ordered to "conserve their assets" for the coming ground offensive, meaning that they must avoid flying prolonged missions in heavily defended areas even if they are confident of striking their targets.
Capt. Fred Whittle of Taunton, Mass., told reporters visiting Marine Attack Squadron 231 that munitions carried by the unit's fleet of AV-8B Harrier light attack jets have included napalm bombs in the last week.
Another pilot also said that some of the Harriers -- including his -- have been armed with napalm bombs, but he and Captain Whittle were tight-lipped about the extent of their use.
Reporters observed ordnance crews inserting foot-long metal canisters -- which the Marines called "initiators" -- into each of several dozen bombs that were stacked on the flight line.
One of the men preparing the bombs, Lance Cpl. John Mitchell, said the munitions contained napalm. A senior officer with the squadron later remarked that the process of getting napalm JTC bombs ready to use began at least three weeks ago.
Crews had inscribed an assortment of hand-written messages on the bombs, including: "Surgeon General Warning: May Cause Skin Irritation with Short Handled Usage."
Napalm (jellied gasoline) bombs were used in World War II, Korea and Vietnam against personnel, armor and other battlefield targets. Napalm was also used in flame throwers to root out troops in bunkers.
Several Marine pilots, including those who fly OV-10 reconnaissance planes that select targets for the Harriers, said their main job now is to attack Iraqi artillery near the border, especially gun emplacements that would be used to disrupt efforts by advancing Marine ground forces to breach minefields and obstacles.
Also under some of the napalm attacks are the oil-filled trenches that Iraq has built to create smoke screens and tank hazards, pilots said.
"We've been assigning priorities on what needs to be hit," Captain Whittle said. "Obviously artillery is up there; that's what he can use to deliver chemical weapons.
"There's tanks, of course, but our tanks can kill his tanks. Artillery is what's important."
PD None of the pilots said they were necessarily hunting down Iraqi
troops, although Lt. Col. Dick Lazisky, 41, of Boston, said, "When we see movement -- some tanks, but a lot of trucks -- we go after them.
"We're constantly engaged in a border patrol, watching any movements of vehicles 24 hours a day," said Colonel Lazisky, the commanding officer of Marine Observation Squad One.
His unit of OV-10 aircraft has been performing mostly tactical air control duties, which he likened to being a traffic cop. And while monitoring air traffic in portions of Kuwaiti airspace near the Saudi border, his planes watch the ground, marking targets with lasers or white phosphorus rounds so that Harriers or Navy A-6 Intruders can move in for the kill, the colonel said.
Pilots who have flown sorties in the last 48 hours said that targets were getting harder to locate, although they agreed that artillery, tanks and other Iraqi hardware were still plentiful.
"The Iraqis are so good at camouflage that in areas where I've worked, the targets have been pretty hard to see," said Capt. Madison "Cookie" Crum, of Lumberton, N.C., who flies an OV-10.
Some overeager pilots have risked getting shot down by heavy anti-aircraft fire while trying to hit artillery and other targets, prompting orders to abort such missions to make sure that enough planes and munitions will be available to support an amphibious assault or other ground attack into Kuwait, Captain Whittle said.
Acronym for the weapon created when the salts or soap of a mixture of naphtenic and palmitic acids are used to thicken gasoline. In gel or syrupy form, gasoline burns slowly and at high temperature and can be propelled more accurately than can gasoline in liquid form. An explosive charge scatters the flaming substance, which sticks to what it hits until it burns ut. Napalm was developed by U.S. scientists durng world War II.