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More Than 700 Coalition Aircraft Pound Iraq

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2003 -- About 700 coalition aircraft flew missions against more than 100 targets in Iraq on March 20, said Defense officials.

The strikes flew even as planners in the area attempted to determine the results of the strikes against the Iraqi leadership the day before. Targets included command and control facilities, early warning radar sites and surface- to-surface missile systems. Bomb damage assessment efforts continue as more strikes are hitting Iraq, officials said.

At least 30 oil wells are on fire as British and American troops secure the oil fields in southern Iraq, British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon said today.

British officials said Iraqi saboteurs lit the wells as it became clear that coalition forces would secure the area. There are hundreds of oil wells in the area.

Hoon also gave a bit more detail on the crash of a U.S. Marine CH-46 helicopter crash. "That helicopter was engaged in an operation led by 3 Commando Brigade on the Al Faw peninsula in southeastern Iraq," he said in the House of Commons.

U.S. officials said there was no indication that enemy fire caused the crash that killed four U.S. and eight British Marines.

Another U.S. Marine was killed as his unit entered Iraq on March 20, U.S. officials said.

As the operation continued, the Royal Marines encountered some resistance, Hoon said. "The tip of the peninsula was secured as planned," he said. "Some resistance, including the use of mortars and artillery, has been encountered and there was a small-scale engagement with individual Iraqi troops resulting in four known Iraqi fatalities."

Throughout the operation, Royal Navy ships including the frigates HMS Chatham and HMS Marlborough provided naval gunfire support to 3 Commando Brigade, he said.

The British and U.S. Marines secured the port of Umm Qasr, Hoon said.

Three U.S. ships and two British submarines launched about 50 Tomahawk land attack missiles against targets in Baghdad on March 20. The ships were the Aegis destroyer USS John S. McCain and attack submarines USS Columbia and USS Providence. The British submarines were the HMS Turbulent and the HMS Splendid.