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3 errant missiles hit Iran, U.S. says

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003

WASHINGTON -- As many as three U.S. missiles aimed at targets in Iraq may have landed in Iran, two officials at the Pentagon said Saturday.

The State Department assured Iran, in a message sent through Swiss intermediaries, that the United States was investigating. Spokesman Philip Reeker offered assurances that the United States respects Iran's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The official Iranian news agency reported that four rockets have landed in Iran during the past two days.

U.S. and Iranian officials are discussing the matter and Iran realizes that any strike was unintentional, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, according to the Associated Press.

At least three people were injured, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

Iran also complained that coalition aircraft have violated its airspace near the southern Iraqi port of Basra. Iran has closed its airspace to coalition and Iraqi warplanes.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi urged the world body to act to stop the invasion of Iraq, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Ships give up on northern front

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military abandoned plans to open a northern front against Iraq that would have sent heavy armored forces streaming across the Turkish border.

On Saturday, two U.S. defense officials said dozens of U.S. ships carrying weaponry for the Army's 4th Infantry Division will head to the Persian Gulf after weeks of waiting off Turkey's coast while the two countries tried to reach a deal.

During a Pentagon news conference, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that even without the 4th Infantry, "there will be a northern option." He would not say what that might be. Other officials said Army airborne troops might join small numbers of U.S. special operations forces already on the ground in northern Iraq, where officials fear clashes between Turkish forces and Iraqi Kurds.

DIVISION DIDN'T SURRENDER: Although U.S. officials on Friday said all 8,000 soldiers in Iraq's 51st Mechanized Division in southern Iraq has surrendered, McChrystal said Saturday that only the unit's commanders gave themselves up. The rest simply left the battlefield or were "melting away," he said.

McChrystal said the number of Iraqi prisoners of war was between 1,000 and 2,000.

Afghan troops encounter hostile fire

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban supporters launched two more attacks on Afghan government troops overnight, continuing a new wave of violence against the American military presence in Afghanistan and American allies in the Afghan government.

Three Afghan guards were killed when their checkpoint in southern Afghanistan was attacked at 1 a.m. today, Fazeluddin Agha, the local district chief, said. Fighting at the post at Wata, about 20 miles from Spin Boldak, the main border crossing to Pakistan, lasted an hour. Several guards escaped, and the attackers eventually withdrew.

Agha said the attackers probably came across the border from Pakistan.

Three Afghan soldiers were wounded in a second attack outside a U.S. base in Khost in eastern Afghanistan when their patrol vehicle was ambushed, a U.S. military spokesman, Col. Roger King, said. The men were badly injured and two of them were evacuated to Bagram air base, he said.

The attacks seemed to be part of a campaign timed to coincide with the outbreak of war in Iraq.

American troops assisted by Romanian military units that are part of the coalition force, and some Afghan military forces, have reacted to the threats aggressively.

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