Thursday, March 16, 2006

US says launches biggest air assault in Iraq

Reuters
Mar 16, 2006

The U.S. military said on Thursday it launched its biggest air offensive in Iraq since the 2003 invasion to root out insurgents near a town where recent violence raised fears of civil war.

A military statement said the operation involving more than 50 aircraft and 1,500 Iraqi and U.S. troops as well as 200 tactical vehicles targeted suspected insurgents operating near the town of Samarra, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad.

The statement said "Operation Swarmer" was launched on Thursday morning and is "expected to continue for several days as a thorough search of the objective area is conducted."

Samarra was the site of a bombing attack last month on a Shi'ite shrine that set off sectarian reprisals and pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

"Initial reports from the objective area indicate that a number of enemy weapons caches have been captured, containing artillery shells, explosives, IED-(bomb) making materials, and military uniforms," said the statement.

The U.S. military has launched several major offensives against Sunni Arab insurgents, including one that captured the former rebel stronghold of Falluja, and a series of assaults in the rebel heartland in western Iraq's Anbar province.

But the crackdowns have failed to ease a raging guerrilla campaign that has killed thousands of U.S. soldiers, Iraqi security forces and civilians.

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