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Friday, January 11, 2008       Free Headline Alerts

U.S. bombs Al Qaida safe havens, tracks down cash-starved operatives fleeing North, South

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military launched a series of major bombing attacks on Al Qaida in Iraq as detainees revealed splits in the organization and a desperate shortage of funds.

U.S. fighter-jets conducted scores of sorties against suspected Al Qaida targets south of Baghdad. U.S. forces were also tracking Al Qaida operatives fleeing the Baghdad area.

In all, more than 40 targets were struck southeast of Baghdad on Thursday, including the destruction of safe havens in Arab Jabour, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials said the operation has been facilitated by widespread resentment against the Al Qaida leadership. They said lower-level operatives have not been paid as senior commanders fled with money allocated for salaries.

Within the first 10 minutes, officials said, U.S. aircraft dropped 38 bombs for a total tonnage of 40,000 pounds. The U.S. military reported five suspected Al Qaida casualties and the capture of 17 others.

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Officials said the air strikes, meant to support Operation Phantom Phoenix, included two B-1 bombers and four F-16 multi-role fighter, which targeted three large areas. They said each bomber made two passes, and the F-16s followed to complete the mission set.

At the same time, U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopters were tracking and targeting Al Qaida operatives south of Baghdad. Officials said the helicopters were working with ground troops to maintain pressure on Al Qaida improvised explosive devices cell.

"We've been conducting detailed zone reconnaissance and intelligence-driven engagements to set the conditions for follow-on operations in support of Marne Thunderbolt and Phantom Phoenix," Lt. Col. Robert Wilson, executive officer for the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, said.

"We allow the commanding general and all his subordinate commanders to get inside the enemy's decision cycle, timeline and even his sanctuaries while minimizing the risk to friendly forces and capitalizing on the vulnerabilities of the enemies of the Iraqi people."

The U.S. military has launched another offensive against Al Qaida in northern Iraq. Operation Iron Harvest was meant to target Al Qaida's significant presence in Diyala province, which fled from the Anbar province. In all, nine U.S. soldiers were killed over the last two days.

"We've also seen some reflections that the lower-level [Al Qaida] fighters are very upset at their leaders," Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of Multinational Division North, said.

Hertling said said Al Qaeda leaders around Mosul appeared to be desperate for money. The general, based on interrrogations of captured operatives, said this has led Al Qaida to abduct Iraqis and hold them for ransom in an attempt to obtain quick cash.

One of the Al Qaida operatives was identified as Jassim Mohammed, also known as Mullah Jasim. Jasim was identified as commander of an Al Qaida cell in Hajwa as well as an associate of the late Abu Harith, killed on Nov. 21, 2007.

"Jasim allegedly received funding for operations from Syria, one of his known safe havens," the U.S. military said.

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