- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

U.S. planes bombed a ballistic missile launcher in southern Iraq yesterday, Pentagon officials said, in the first operation in years against Iraqi weapons that would be directed against land targets.
Eight American warplanes dropped 16 bombs on the Iraqi missile system near Basra about 11 a.m. yesterday, Pentagon officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. A statement from U.S. Central Command said the Iraqis had moved the mobile missile-launching system into the southern no-fly zone.
"Saddam Hussein put these systems in range of our troops and the people of Kuwait, and under U.N. authority, we struck them," said Jim Wilkinson, a Central Command spokesman.
The U.S. bombs struck an Iraqi Ababil-100 missile launcher, a command van and resupply vehicles, senior defense officials said.
The Ababil is a solid-fuel missile developed after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Iraq says it does not fly farther than the 93-mile limit on Iraqi missiles imposed by United Nations sanctions. The United States and Britain say the Ababil probably either has a longer range or could easily be modified to fly farther. U.S. officials say the Ababil can also be used to carry chemical or biological warheads.
Even under the U.N. limit, an Ababil missile fired from Basra could easily reach Kuwait, where thousands of U.S. troops are massing in preparation for an invasion of Iraq.
U.S. warplanes also attacked a mobile surface-to-air missile system near Basra on Monday. Iraq said that strike killed two civilians. American military officials say they go to great lengths to avoid hitting civilians and that Iraq often lies about civilian casualties.
Yesterday was the 15th day this year that U.S. or coalition forces have struck at targets inside Iraq's two no-fly zones.

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