U.S. military: 100 Iraqi 'terror squad members' killed
Coalition steps up air war
DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- U.S. Central Command said about 100 "terror squad members" were killed early Monday in fighting around Najaf and Samawah in southern Iraq.
Central Command said soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division also took another 50 Iraqi troops prisoner. Further details were not immediately available.
The announcement came hours after Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said coalition troops were hunting down Iraqi "death squads" and other loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party operating in Nasiriya and Basra in the south.
Meanwhile, with coalition ground forces poised 50 miles from Baghdad, the 'round-the-clock bombardment of Iraqi regime targets continued into Monday morning, senior military officials said.
The U.S. Air Force intensified its air runs over Iraq on Sunday, making a total of about 1,800 sorties -- 75 runs an hour -- reported CNN correspondent Bob Franken, embedded with the airmen in southern Iraq. The Air Force had been averaging 1,000 sorties a day.
More than half the airstrikes were directed at the Republican Guard, the Air Force said, confirming what Myers said earlier in the day.
Two large explosions rocked central Baghdad as dawn broke Monday, hitting the presidential palace used by Saddam's son Qusay, a Reuters correspondent reported.
But so far, the Air Force said, Baghdad has been the target of just 20 percent of the Air Force's strikes. The U.S.-led coalition is targeting points south of Baghdad to clear the way north for coalition troops.
Other targets of coalition bombing include northern towns along the border between Kurdish- and Iraqi-controlled territory.
Pentagon sources said Sunday was one of the heaviest days yet of aerial bombardment in war.
They said that more than 60 percent of the missions were aimed at "degrading the capabilities" of three Republican guard divisions dug in south of Baghdad -- the Medina, Hammurabi, and Baghdad divisions.
"Our air power will be directed at those divisions, particularly their artillery, short range surface to surface missiles, anything that could deliver, potentially deliver, chemical or biological weapons," Myers said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said he heard bombs hit in and around Baghdad almost continually Sunday.
On pictures carried by Arab television networks, several fires could be seen along the Baghdad skyline, and a series of explosions could be heard in several locations around the city. It was unclear whether the fires were from airstrikes or set by the Iraqi regime.
Coalition officials have accused Iraqis of digging ditches, filling them with oil and setting them aflame in hopes of either providing protective cover against coalition air attacks or disrupting precision-guided missiles and aerial surveillance.
Asked about the timing of a ground assault on Baghdad, Myers cautioned against making assumptions.
"This plan, and our thrust, and our major attacks, and the way it will unfold will be at a time and a place of our choosing. The one thing you can count on is that we're going to have patience," Myers said.
Myers and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared on Sunday talk shows pushing the Bush administration view that the Iraq campaign is on track. They denied media reports of a "pause" in the fighting, and defended the progress of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Rumsfeld dismissed what he called the critics' "hyperventilating" and called reports that he vetoed plans by top officers for a larger invasion force "fiction."
Rumsfeld told ABC's "This Week" that Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom, developed the plan with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, adding that "it's a little early for postmortems." (Full story)
• Ten U.S. service members wounded in Iraq arrived at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, late Sunday, a hospital spokesman said. Dr. David Ferguson said he didn't expect any of the Marines or naval personnel to return to the "theater of operations."
• In southern Iraq, British Royal Marine commandos captured five high-ranking Iraqi paramilitary leaders and a senior officer Sunday in a village southeast of Basra, said Capt. Al Lockwood, a British military spokesman. (Full story)
• U.S. forces in western Iraq have captured an Iraqi general, who led them to a cache of weapons that included 26 surface-to-air, anti-aircraft missiles and six anti-aircraft guns, according to Central Command.
• In northern Iraq, Franks said, allied troops destroyed a massive facility held by the Islamic militia Ansar al-Islam. U.S. officials said the group is a link between Iraq and al Qaeda and that it was involved in producing poisons for use in terrorist attacks.
• Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Hazem al-Rawi disputed reports of coalition gains and said Iraqi troops have halted coalition forces, killing hundreds, injuring thousands and threatening supplies.
• He also said that Iraqi forces have destroyed or seized more than 130 tanks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles. U.S. officials have not commented on these reports.
• Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said Iraqi tribal fighters destroyed four tanks, killed or captured the crew and downed an unmanned Predator reconnaissance drone. Pentagon officials denied the allegations, and Central Command is checking reports of the downed drone.
• A Marine UH-1 Huey helicopter crashed in southern Iraq, killing three people and injuring a fourth, Central Command officials said.
• Iraq has not let the International Committee of the Red Cross visit U.S. prisoners of war, Myers said Sunday. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs said the United States has agreed to allow the Red Cross to visit more than 4,000 Iraqi POWs and called on Iraq to reciprocate. He said the Red Cross wanted to wait until conditions are more secure.
• A man drove a white pickup truck into troops waiting outside the post exchange at Camp Udairi in Kuwait on Sunday, injuring 15 members of the U.S. military. Soldiers fired at the truck's driver, who was taken to a U.S. military medical facility in Kuwait, where he was in intensive care. The matter is under investigation, but sources said it appeared to have been the result of a personal dispute.
• In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Mohamed Aldouri, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, said Iraqis would "use any type of weapons to defend ourselves." He ruled out the use of chemical weapons, saying, "We don't have chemical weapons. ... Iraq is cleaned of that."
• British Army Maj. Gen. Albert Whitely said Sunday that work would begin Monday on a pipeline that would deliver 600,000 gallons of fresh water a day from Kuwait to the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr.
CNN correspondents Christiane Amanpour, Bob Franken, Tom Mintier and Nic Robertson, and producer Mike Mount, contributed to this report.
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