Massive U.S. Airstrike Hits Baghdad

A U.S. army soldier from Ghostrider Company, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment runs through smoke generated by a grenade during Operation Phantom Phoenix (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)
A U.S. army soldier from Ghostrider Company, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment runs through smoke generated by a grenade during Operation Phantom Phoenix (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)

(CBS/AP) U.S. bombers and jet fighters unleashed 40,000 pounds of explosives during a 10-minute airstrike Thursday morning, flattening what the military called al Qaeda in Iraq safehavens on the southern outskirts of the capital.

A military statement said two B-1 bombers and four F-16 fighters dropped the explosives on Arab Jabour in 10 strikes on 40 targets.

The massive attack was part of Operation Phantom Phoenix, a nationwide campaign launched Tuesday against al Qaeda in Iraq.

"Thirty-eight bombs were dropped within the first 10 minutes, with a total tonnage of 40,000 pounds," the statement said.

The punishing attack was carried out above approaching troops of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, which has battled insurgents south of the capital for months.

Operation Phantom Phoenix has already proven deadly for U.S. troops operating north of Baghdad. Nine American soldiers were killed in the first two days of the new American drive to kill al Qaeda in Iraq fighters, the U.S. military reported Wednesday.

The two deadly attacks came as many militants fled American and Iraqi forces massing in Diyala, a province of palm and citrus groves that has defied the trend toward lower violence. The campaign's scope is nationwide but is mostly focused on gaining control of the province and its most important city, Baqouba, which al Qaeda has declared the capital of its self-styled Islamic caliphate.

Six soldiers were killed and four were wounded Wednesday in a booby-trapped house in Diyala, north of Baghdad. The military also announced that three U.S. soldiers were killed and two were wounded in an attack Tuesday in Salahuddin province, north of Diyala.

During all of December, 23 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq.

All indications are that the al Qaeda fighters retreated north from Diyala, presumably to Salahuddin, before the current operation began Tuesday, said the top U.S. commander in northern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling.

"Operational security in Iraq is a problem," Hertling said Wednesday, noting that the Iraqi army uses unsecured cell phones and radios. "I'm sure there is active leaking of communication."

Only Baghdad province has been deadlier than Diyala the past two years, according to an Associated Press count.

And while violence has declined over the past six months in Baghdad and many other places in Iraq, much of Diyala has remained a killing field. At least 273 civilians were slain in Diyala last month, compared to 213 in June. Over the same span, monthly civilian deaths in Baghdad dropped from 838 to 182.

The reason for the surge of bloodshed is that insurgents who were pushed out of the western province of Anbar and out of Baghdad shifted their operations into Diyala, U.S. commanders say.

In other developments:

  • A new study suggests 151,000 people have died of war-related violence in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of that country. The study, which will be published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, is based on an extensive survey of Iraqi households. The work, a joint project of Iraq's Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, is the latest attempt to try to quantify how many Iraqis have died because of war-related violence. An earlier study by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health pegged the number of deaths at more than 600,000.

  • The United States announced on Thursday it has designated a Kurdish militant group as a terrorism threat to U.S. interests and blocked its assets. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, believed to be linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK rebels, has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in Istanbul. The group is also known as the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks, or TAK by its Kurdish acronym.

  • Two bombs exploded nearly simultaneously Wednesday morning near a military checkpoint in central Baghdad, killing two policemen and one soldier, police said. Eleven others were wounded in the attack, including four civilians.