U.S. says 30 militants killed in big Iraq offensive

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. and Iraqi forces killed at least 30 al Qaeda militants and found numerous weapons during the first full day of a big offensive against the Sunni Islamist group north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the military said a guided missile strike destroyed a weapons cache inside a known al Qaeda safe house.

The offensive around the city of Baquba in Diyala province, launched before dawn on Tuesday, is one of the biggest military operations in Iraq since the invasion in 2003.

“This operation is just beginning and we will continue to strike al Qaeda no matter where they hide and we won’t rest until the job is done,” said Brigadier-General Mick Bednarek, deputy commanding general, operations, 25th Infantry Division.

The statement said troops discovered at least two weapons caches containing assault weapons, grenades and rocket launchers. They also found four bombs hidden in homes as well as 10 buried in the ground.

The U.S. military had previously said 22 militants were killed in the early hours of the offensive in Diyala province, an al Qaeda stronghold.

Around 10,000 American soldiers, backed by attack helicopters, close air support and armored fighting vehicles are taking part in the offensive, dubbed Operation Arrowhead Ripper. Some 2,000 Iraqi soldiers and police are also involved.

Baquba lies 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad.