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Allied aircraft attack Iraqi air base

USS George Washington
USS George Washington  

From Mike Mount
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Coalition aircraft attacked targets on an Iraqi air base Thursday southwest of Baghdad, the U.S. Central Command said.

The coalition response came after Iraqi forces fired anti-aircraft artillery at coalition jets patrolling the southern no-fly zone of that country, a Pentagon official said.

The official said that in two different strikes, 12 coalition aircraft -- four U.S. Air Force F-15s, four British fighter jets and four U.S. Navy F-18s from the USS George Washington -- were used to drop more than 20 precision-guided bombs on a military airfield known as Rutvah, about 240 miles west of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Two to three separate targets on the airbase were pinpointed for destruction. A command center, an air defense radar site and a cable repeater were among those targets, the official said.

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This is the first time in more than a year that U.S. Navy fighters have been used in an air strike in Operation Southern Watch, Navy officials said.

Since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. carriers have been tied up with operations in Afghanistan and have not been able to dedicate aircraft for Operation Southern Watch while in the Arabian Sea.

At the time of the strike, the George Washington was in the Persian Gulf, a typical placement of an aircraft carrier based in the Central Command region, the Navy official said.

Military officials could not specify why Navy aircraft were used during this latest strike.

U.S. and allied forces have patrolled no-fly zones in both southern and northern Iraq since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Coalition policy is to strike in self-defense if Iraqi air defense facilities target or fire at allied aircraft.

The U.S. Central Command said that the Iraqis have fired on coalition aircraft more than 130 times so far this year.


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