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Agence France Presse

U.S.-Led Coalition Forces Bomb Shiite Militia in Basra

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BASRA, Iraq - US-led coalition warplanes dropped bombs on Shiite militia positions in Basra overnight, directly entering the fray for the first time since the Iraqi army launched a crackdown in the southern city, a British military spokesman said on Friday.0328 08

Two bombing missions were carried out against specific targets, Major Tom Holloway told AFP.

"It was on identified rocket teams in the city and there was a concentration of militia troops which was bombed," he said, adding that the bombings were the first by the coalition forces since Iraqi military operations started in Basra on Tuesday.

Holloway said at Basra airport, where the British contingent of around 4,100 troops are based, that coalition forces have also been providing air support, surveillance and are refuelling Iraqi helicopters and transport planes.

"Coalition forces are providing capability in those niche areas that the Iraqi armed forces don't have," Holloway said.

"Particularly, we are providing them air power over the top of the city. The Iraqi air force does exist but doesn't yet have fast jets. We are also providing surveillance and that is being fed back into the Iraqi's operational command centre in Basra.

"And also they have been providing air support in terms of dropping munitions on identified militia targets in the city."

Coalition forces rather than the Iraqi army are directing the air support, the British spokesman added. "The Iraqi air support is being directed by our call signs."

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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