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U.S. planes bomb Qaeda safe haven south of Baghdad

BAGHDAD - U.S. warplanes dropped 30,000 pounds of bombs on a suspected al Qaeda safe haven south of Baghdad, the U.S. Air Force said, the latest in a series of air strikes aimed at disrupting the Sunni Islamist group's operations.

The U.S. Air Force said the operation, which began on Sunday night and continued on Monday morning, involved B-1 bombers and F/A-18 jets. It targeted Salman Pak, an area 35 km (20 miles) south of Baghdad.

U.S. and Iraqi forces launched an offensive against al Qaeda on Jan. 8 in Iraq's four northern provinces and Baghdad's southern outskirts. The U.S. military has declared al Qaeda the biggest threat to peace in Iraq.

"This particular mission targeted an area where al Qaeda laid obstacles in the way of improvised explosive devices and took up safe haven at the same time. They also used the land to traffic weapons and send fighters into Baghdad," the Air Force said in a statement.

Several houses booby-trapped with explosives were destroyed in the air strikes. Six U.S. soldiers were killed in Diyala province north of Baghdad at the start of the offensive when the house they were searching blew up and collapsed on top of them.

The air force said the air strikes would allow U.S. and Iraqi troops to move into the area to set up a permanent base of operations.

U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith said on Sunday that 121 militants had been killed so far in the offensive against al Qaeda, 92 of whom were what he called "high-value targets".

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