U.S. Strikes at Baghdad Outskirts

BAGHDAD -- U.S. warplanes launched their biggest air strike in Iraq since 2006 on Thursday, bombarding date palm groves on Baghdad's southern outskirts with more than 18,000 kilograms of bombs in a matter of minutes.

Two B-1 bombers and four F-16 fighter jets struck more than 40 al-Qaida targets in Arab Jabour, a district south of the capital that has become a haven for fighters driven out of other areas.

The attack formed part of Operation Phantom Phoenix, a major countrywide offensive against al-Qaida guerrillas that U.S. forces announced this week.

"Thirty-eight bombs were dropped within the first 10 minutes, with a total tonnage of 40,000 pounds," the military said in a statement. "Each bomber passed over twice and the F-16s followed to complete the set."

U.S. forces spokesman Major Winfield Danielson said it was the biggest air strike in Iraq since at least 2006. A spokeswoman for U.S. forces in central Iraq, Major Allayne Conway, said it was too soon to assess the damage inflicted.

"We certainly have our opponents on the ropes and we're going to go after him while he is on the ropes," said Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wilsonof the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, in a statement.

Large-scale air strikes have been rare in Iraq, especially in recent months when the intensity of military action tapered off as overall violence declined and U.S. commanders emphasized "hearts and minds" engagement with civilians.