Around 100 U.S. and British warplanes joined in on an attack on Iraq's major western air defense installation Thursday in what may be the biggest single operation in the country's airspace in four years, London's Daily Telegraph reported.
The raid came two days before British Prime Minister Tony Blair was set to meet with President Bush to discuss a solution to the crisis in Iraq.
The Daily Telegraph said the raid had the appearances of a strategic prelude to special forces operations that would have to begin weeks before a possible war in Iraq -- eliminating air defenses to allow easy access for special forces choppers to fly into Iraq from Jordan or Saudi Arabia to hunt down Scud missiles.
The paper said that the large numbers involved stemmed from the many support aircraft that took part even though only 12 jets actually dropped precision-guided bombs onto the H3 airfield, 240 miles west of Baghdad and close to Jordan.
The Pentagon told The Daily Telegraph that the raid was launched in "response to recent Iraqi hostile acts against coalition aircraft monitoring the southern no-fly zone."
The strikes were carried out by nine American F-15 Strike Eagles and three RAF Tornado GR4 ground attack aircraft flying from Kuwait, the paper said, adding that at least seven types of aircraft took part. It said fighter cover was provided by U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons and RAF Tornado F3s from Saudi Arabia and RAF VC10 tanker aircraft flying from Bahrain were among the support aircraft.
The paper reported that these also included EA6b Prowlers, which send out signals to confuse enemy radar, and E3a Awacs aircraft that co-ordinate operations and carry out reconnaissance of any response. RAF Tornados also took part in the reconnaissance, the report said.
U.S. Central Command refused to go into detail to the paper about the number of aircraft involved in the raid.
It told The Daily Telegraph: "Coalition strikes in the no-fly zones are executed as a self-defense measure in response to Iraqi hostile threats and acts against coalition forces and their aircraft."