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One general's view inside the cockpit

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Dan Leaf acknowledges this is a strange war.

Sometimes before leaving for the office - a cramped F-16 cockpit thousands of feet above Yugoslavia - he talks about his day with his daughter and wife.

Then the Air Force brigadier general, who commands the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy, goes to work.

"As much as he likes command, nothing gets him more fired up than talking about some surface-to-air missile site he just took out," says Capt. Ed Thomas, a spokesman at Aviano.

The stocky and well-spoken Air Force general commands the largest combat wing in history - 130 US warplanes - and is helping direct an air campaign that has stretched into its 10th week. While it is not unprecedented for a general to see front-line action in a fighter plane, it is not typical, either. But General Leaf says it's the best way to lead.

"I have a deep-felt sense that this mission is not just morally appropriate, but morally imperative," says Leaf, by many accounts a rising star in the US Air Force.

Optimism over air war

At his scenic base in northeast Italy, NATO has a total of 190 aircraft, including Spanish, Canadian, and Portuguese warplanes. During a telephone interview last week, Leaf expressed optimism about the impact of the air war, which has marched forward despite the lack of a ground force and blunders such as the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

Leaf has flown 14 combat missions, some into the heart and teeth of Yugoslav air defenses. He characterizes the Serb military as isolated, trapped, and in danger of not being able to retreat safely.


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