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U.S. warplanes strike Iraqi missile site

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets bombed a surface-to-air missile site in southern Iraq Tuesday, U.S. officials said.

The attack took place near the town of An Nasiriyah, some 170 miles south east of Baghdad.

The target area included Soviet-made SA-2 anti-aircraft missiles, with their launchers, fire control radars and associated command and control structures, according to officials who asked they not be identified.

The mobile SA-2 missiles had been a thorn in the side of U.S. pilots and commanders in the region, who have reported that Iraqi forces had been regularly re-locating the site in their ongoing effort to surprise and down a U.S. or British warplane patrolling the southern no-fly zone, defense officials revealed.

Message board: Iraq  

All U.S. and British strike and support aircraft returned safely to their bases in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia following the strike, the officials said.

The United States and its coalition partner Great Britain have stepped up efforts of late to degrade the integrated air defense system throughout Iraq since Iraq has, for the last five months, been aggressively attempting to down a coalition aircraft, the Pentagon has said.

The U.S. and Britain launched significant air attacks against three Iraqi air defense sites last Friday. Those strikes included a total of about 50 aircraft including 18 strike planes flying from bases in the region and the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise sailing in the Persian Gulf.

Pentagon officials said Tuesday that Iraqi air defense units now appear to be focusing on downing a U.S. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) known as a "Predator."

The Predator is a pilotless airborne reconnaissance aircraft used in Iraq to gather intelligence on the movement of Iraqi military forces and air defense units.

The Predator is about 27 feet long with a wing span of nearly 49 feet. It flies at a cruising speed of less than 100 miles per hour and typically flies at an altitude of less than 15,000 feet, making it an easy target for advanced air defense systems such as the one fielded by Iraq.

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