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U.S. F-16 Crashes In Iraq

A U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jet crashed Friday during a close air support mission for ground forces in Iraq, the Central Air Command reported. The U.S. military also announced that five more soldiers had died.

The Air Force announcement, which referred to the 12:27 a.m. crash as an accident, did not say where it occurred or what happened to the pilot, the single crew member.

The loss of an F-16, a workhorse warplane in the Iraq war, is a rare event. One crashed last Nov. 27 in the western province of Anbar, killing the pilot.

The jet was deployed to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad Air Base, 50 miles north of Baghdad.

"The cause of the accident is under investigation," said the statement from the Central Command Air Forces, which provided no further details.

In other developments:

  • Police said bombers posing as television cameramen destroyed an important Sunni shrine in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an indefinite curfew in the city. Photographs of the Sunni Talha Bin al-Zubair shrine, 13 miles outside Basra, showed the that the big structure was leveled, a result that would have required huge amounts of explosives — more than even several men could have carried into the mosque concealed in television equipment bags.
  • In Tehran, Iran's supreme leader accused the U.S.-led forces in Iraq of plotting and extremist Sunni groups of carrying out the Wednesday attack on the al-Askariya shrine in Samarra, saying it was designed to provoke civil war in Iraq.
  • Insurgents linked to al Qaeda released a videotape showing the execution-style deaths of 14 Iraqi soldiers and policemen after the expiration of a 72-hour deadline for the Iraqi government to meet their demands to release all Iraqi female prisoners.
  • NATO defense ministers agreed Friday to widen the alliance training mission for Iraq's security forces to include instruction for paramilitary police units as well as the military. The ministers responded to a request from the Iraqi government "to provide gendarmerie training to complement the military training," said NATO spokesman James Appathurai.
  • The remains of a Brazilian engineer who was kidnapped in Iraq in 2005 have been found and positively identified, the Brazilian foreign ministry said Thursday. The remains of engineer Joao Jose Vasconcellos were identified by forensic experts in Kuwait with support from Brazilian embassy personnel, the ministry said in a statement. It did not say when or where the remains were found, which arrived Thursday in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit Friday.

    Gates told reporters the military wasn't trying to paint an overly optimistic picture of how the war is going.

    "It's a very mixed picture," he said when asked whether the military and commanding Gen. David Petraeus were offering realistic assessments of the violence in Baghdad. Since Feb. 14, the military has sent nearly 30,000 more soldiers to Iraq, most of them to Baghdad.

    "I have every confidence in General Petraeus and in his ability and willingness to call it as he sees it," Gates said.

    Three of the U.S. soldiers, whose deaths were announced Friday by the military, died when a bomb exploded near their vehicle Thursday during operations in Kirkuk province, in northern Iraq. Another soldier was wounded in the blast.

    A fourth soldier was killed by small arms fire the same day in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. And another soldier died Wednesday in a non-combat related incident, which the military said it was investigating.

    All were assigned to Task Force Lightning, and their names were withheld pending family notification.

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