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US, British Aircrafts Hit Iraqi Missile Sites

Aircraft of the U.S.-British coalition patrolling over northern and southern Iraq have struck at several mobile missile sites, including one described as a threat to troops massed in Kuwait.

It has been one of the most active 24 hour cycles in what has become an escalating series of airstrikes against targets inside Iraq.

U.S. military officials say coalition jets flying over northern Iraq pounded three mobile surface-to-surface missile systems south of the town of Mosul after the missiles were moved into the no-fly zone.

In the south, allied aircraft first struck a surface-to-air missile system near al-Basrah.

A statement by the military's Central Command says that just hours later, coalition planes in the south carried out a separate strike against a mobile surface-to-surface missile launcher in the same vicinity.

It was that system that defense officials described as a potential threat to coalition forces gathering in Kuwait for a possible invasion of Iraq.

About 100,000 troops are presently in Kuwait, about half of the U.S. forces massed in and around Iraq for a possible invasion should President Bush decide to use force to disarm Iraq.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army's top general, Eric Shinseki, has told a Congressional committee that what he terms "significant" ground forces will probably be necessary to secure Iraq following a new war.

"We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems, so it takes a significant ground force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this," he said.

Pentagon officials say no specific numbers have been discussed for an occupation security force. But they stress the United States has no desire to remain in Iraq any longer than necessary if there is a war.

The Pentagon has, however, confirmed it is planning on conducting emergency relief operations inside the country following any conflict to limit civilian suffering.

But defense officials say the extent of the relief effort will depend largely on the behavior of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Some U.S. officials fear he may use weapons of mass destruction or destroy key facilities, increasing the plight of civilians.