US says launches biggest air assault in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Mar 17: The US military said it launched its biggest air offensive in Iraq since the 2003 invasion to root out insurgents near a town where recent violence raised fears of civil war.
A military statement said the operation involving more than 50 aircraft and 1,500 Iraqi and US troops as well as 200 tactical vehicles targeted suspected insurgents operating near the town of Samarra, 100 km north of Baghdad.
The statement said ''Operation Swarmer'' was launched yesterday morning and is ''expected to continue for several days as a thorough search of the objective area is conducted''.
Samarra was the site of a bombing attack last month on a Shi'ite shrine that set off sectarian reprisals and pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
''Initial reports from the objective area indicate that a number of enemy weapons caches have been captured, containing artillery shells, explosives, IED-(bomb) making materials, and military uniforms,'' said the statement.
The US military has launched several major offensives against Sunni Arab insurgents, including one that captured the former rebel stronghold of Falluja, and a series of assaults in the rebel heartland in western Iraq's Anbar province.
But the crackdowns have failed to ease a raging guerrilla campaign that has killed thousands of US soldiers, Iraqi security forces and civilians.