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U.S. concludes it has wiped out most Iraqi air defenses

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

A U.S. review indicates a lion's share of Iraqi air defense batteries have been destoyred.

U.S. officials and Western diplomatic sources said U.S. Central Command has assessed that allied war planes have destroyed all stationary Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries in southern and northern Iraq. They said many of the mobile systems have also been destroyed, particularly in southern Kuwait.

The U.S. attacks on Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries have been accompanied by accelerated psychological operations. On Monday, U.S. and British aircraft operating from Turkey's Incerlik air base dropped 240,000 leaflets on two locations -- south of Tall Afar and southwest of Lake Saddam, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials said Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery sites at these locations have repeatedly fired on coalition aircraft enforcing the northern no-fly zone.

"Any hostile action by Iraqi air defense will be answered by instant retaliation," the leaflet said. "Iraqi air defense positions which fire on coalition aircraft or activate air defense radar will be attacked and destroyed."

The allied effort reflects a goal to destroy Iraqi air defense assets before the start of a full-scale war against Baghdad, the officials and sources said. The Iraqi systems targeted included those located along the Jordanian and Syrian borders.

Officials said Iraqi air defenses have fired either surface-to-air missiles or anti-aircraft artillery at coalition aircraft more than 110 times in 2003. On Monday, U.S. and British fighter-jets struck an Iraqi mobile air defense asset identified by U.S. Central Command as an acquisition radar system, deployed about 360 miles west of Baghdad.

Officials said the radar was deemed a threat and would have allowed Iraqi air defenses to locate, track and target coalition aircraft. It was the third allied attack on Iraqi targets in as many days. On Sunday, U.S. and British aircraft bombed five unmanned, underground military communication sites near A-Numinayah, about 100 kilometers southeast of Baghdad. The aircraft struck the sites after Iraqi forces fired a surface-to-air missile earlier in the day.

Allied aircraft also struck four Iraqi communications sites near Qalat Sukkar, about 200 kilometers southeast of Baghdad on Saturday. Officials said the aircraft used precision-guided munitions to strike the facilities after Iraqi air defense gunners fired on the aircraft. They said the military communication sites had enhanced Iraq's ability to command and control air defenses.

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