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Militant Group Routed in Northern Iraq - 2003-04-01


US special forces and their Iraqi Kurdish allies say they have routed an Islamic militant group, allegedly linked to the al-Qaida terror network, from territory it controlled in northern Iraq.

A special forces officer says U-S air strikes and a Kurdish-led ground offensive killed most of the members of Ansar al-Islam, and drove survivors out of villages the group held near the Iraq-Iran border.

The officer, speaking to reporters in the Kurdish town of Halabjah on Tuesday, said it took a day and a half "to root out a terrorist organization that gripped the area."

The U-S officer said there is evidence that several hundred Ansar and al-Qaida fighters had been killed. He said those who escaped apparently fled into Iran or are holed up in the mountains near the border.

The special forces officer says the troops found materials at the site that made them believe Ansar al-Islam was working on chemical and biological weapons, but he did not elaborate.

U-S and Kurdish officers say the ground attack consisted of a rush by several thousand Kurdish guerrillas, backed by U-S air strikes and a small number of U-S special forces.

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