US forces destroy terrorist facility’ in northern Iraq

IRAQ WAR
REGIONAL SECURITY

THE commander of the US-led war in Iraq, General Tommy Franks, said yesterday that American forces had destroyed a ‘terrorist facility’ in the northern part of the country.

Speaking in a daily briefing at the US Central Command here, he ticked off the successes of coalition forces since the beginning of the war.

They included securing the southern oil fields and weeding out paramilitary and terrorist elements.

‘Coalition forces have attacked and destroyed in the last 48 hours a massive terrorist facility in northern Iraq,’ he said.

He gave no details, but Washington accuses the Ansar al-Islam group, which has some 600 fighters in northern Iraq, of working to make chemical weapons with help from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network.

Analysts said Ansar al-Islam, which controls the area of Halabja near the town of Sulemaniya and the Iranian border, was made up of Iraqi Kurds and an unknown number of foreigners that included Jordanians, Palestinians and Afghans.

It was set up two years ago with the aim of launching a jihad or religious war in the autonomous Kurdish area against secular political parties there.

Kurdish officials believe that the group was responsible for the recent suicide bombing in the area that killed an Australian photojournalist.

The announcement yesterday followed a wave of strikes against militant elements across the country.

About 200 members of the local Baath Party were also killed in a bomb attack on Friday night. Gen Franks said that Iraqis opposed to President Saddam Hussein were working with coalition forces, notably in Nassiriyah, where they provided records on ruling Baath Party officials.

Giving an overview of the war so far, he said: ‘We’re in fact on plan. And where we stand today is not, in my view, only acceptable, but truly remarkable.’

He said the US-led forces had achieved freedom of action in air and on ground in western Iraq, were staging air operations from a number of captured air fields and had secured the coastline, clearing the way for humanitarian aid shipments to begin.

‘The air force has worked 24 hours a day across every square foot of Iraq, and every day the regime loses more of its military capability.’

He rejected reports that his ground forces had engaged in an ‘operational pause’ some 80 km south of Baghdad.

Reports have quoted US military officials as saying that the lack of troops and weapons could extend the war into the summer.

But Gen Franks brushed the reports aside, saying: ‘One never knows how long a war will take.’

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