U.S., British Warplanes Bomb Three Sites in Southern Iraq

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U.S. and British warplanes Friday carried out the largest allied strike against Iraq since February.

They bombed three air defense network sites in southern Iraq in response to increased efforts by Iraq to shoot down allied pilots, defense officials said.

The official Iraqi News Agency reported that one person was killed and 11 were wounded.

Twenty U.S. and British attack planes, plus about 30 support aircraft carried out the strike at 5:30 a.m. EDT, said a Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Steve Campbell.

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in the Persian Gulf launched the U.S. planes, another official said. They were also launched from land bases in the region which the official would not describe in detail. Some of the support aircraft apparently flew from bases in Saudi Arabia.

The planes struck a military communications center, a surface-to-air missile launching site and a long-range radar — all elements of Iraq's integrated air defense network, Campbell said.

"All of these targets were contributing to the effectiveness of the Iraqi air defense system," Campbell said.

The spokesman said the allied planes returned safely from Iraqi airspace. He could not immediately provide other details.

An unidentified air defense spokesman told the Iraqi News Agency that the warplanes hit Nassiriyah province and Wassit in southern Iraq.

"The American and British planes of evil have conducted a cowardly operation targeting civil and service installations," the spokesman was quoted as saying.

A White House spokesman said President Bush, who repeatedly called Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a menace in recent days, was notified Thursday night of the impending attack, which the White House described as a routine but somewhat heavier than customary.

"We have said all along and repeatedly we will take action to protect the pilots who patrol the 'no-fly' zone," said the spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity. "This is in keeping with that."

In London, a Ministry of Defense official said British Tornado GR4 aircraft were involved in attacking one of the targets.

All three targets were in southern Iraq, where U.S. and British planes have been enforcing a "no fly" zone since shortly after the end of the 1991 Gulf War to protect Shiite rebels against attacks by government forces.

At Incirlik air base in Turkey, where planes patrolling the northern zone are based, a spokesman said allied aircraft flew a patrol over northern Iraq on Friday and Iraqi gunners opened fire with anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles but the aircraft did not strike back.

On Tuesday, U.S. Air Force planes bombed an air defense site in northern Iraq, north of the city of Mosul, and Bush pledged to keep Saddam's military ambitions in check. U.S. European Command said U.S. pilots acted in self-defense after Iraq launched surface-to-air missiles and fired anti-aircraft artillery.

Officials said it was not a planned attack in response to the recent near-miss Iraqi attack on a U.S. Air Force U-2 reconnaissance plane.

Friday's attack, however, was a direct response to Iraq's more aggressive actions against allied patrols, one defense official said.

In his comments Tuesday, Bush said he had been briefed but was not directly involved in the decision. "Our military can make decisions as they see fit to protect our pilots, unless of course it's close to Baghdad, in which case it requires my approval. The missions that took place were fully in accordance with established allied war plans."

Iraq considers the "no-fly" zones to be illegal and has mounted a sustained effort to shoot down a U.S. or British plane.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Aug. 3 that Iraq has rebuilt its air defenses since U.S. and British warplanes attacked radar and communications targets around Baghdad on Feb. 16.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.