WASHINGTON - US and British warplanes launched a major strike Friday against three air-defense sites in southern Iraq Friday in response to recent attacks on coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone, Pentagon officials said.
About 50 aircraft -- including tankers and other support aircraft -- participated in the raid, the largest since February. All returned safely, a Pentagon official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official said the raid was in response to "recent increases in air defense firings against coalition aircraft," and targets included "two communications nodes and surface-to-air missile sites."
Damage to the targets is still being assessed, the official said.
A second Pentagon official said the targets included a communications node, a surface-to-air missile site and a radar site.
The second official confirmed the strike -- initiated by army General Tommy Franks, US Central Command chief, was the biggest since a February 16 raid on air-defense targets near Baghdad. Franks has authority to act to protect aircraft patrolling over Iraq without first seeking White House approval.
"It was a little more than a plink but not big," the second official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
There were "a little less than 20 aircraft in the strike package, but approximately 50 in the air," launched from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and ground bases in the region, the second official said.
Friday's air strike was the second this week in response to recent anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile fire at coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone.
US warplanes Tuesday shattered a three-week lull by attacking a multiple-rocket launcher near Mosul in northern Iraq.
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