U.S.-led forces have launched offensives in three Iraqi rebel strongholds on a day Osama bin Laden's deputy ridiculed the U.S. military, saying their defeat in Iraq was just a matter of time. U.S.-led forces killed nearly two dozen insurgents in a town near the Syrian border on Thursday and bombed targets in Falluja, west of Baghdad, for the third straight day. Troops mounted a major offensive in Tal Afar, a suspected haven for foreign fighters about 100 km (60 miles) east of the Syrian border in northern Iraq, and went into the tense town of Samarra north of Baghdad, while keeping up pressure on Falluja. The fighting in Tal Afar killed 22 insurgents and wounded more than 70 people, a local government health official said. Ayman al-Zawahri, the number two figure in al Qaeda, poured scorn on efforts by the United States to quell the insurgency which Iraq's U.S.-backed government says is fuelled partly by foreigners linked to al Qaeda. Zawahri appeared in a new videotape aired on the Arabic Al Jazeera television station, taunting Washington by saying fighters had turned U.S. plans for the oil-rich country upside down, informs Reuters. According to the NEWS, American forces with their Iraqi allies penetrated the northern city of Samarrah for the first time in a month yesterday in an attempt to recapture territory that has slipped out of coalition control in recent weeks. The operation was part of a three-pronged assault on insurgent strongholds including aerial bombardment of targets in Fallujah and Tal Afar, a city on the border with Syria taken over by insurgents. The bombardment of Fallujah, where US patrols have been unable to operate for three weeks, was an attempt at a "precision strike" at a building reportedly occupied by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, described by the US military as a leader of the Iraqi resistance. "The target was a building frequently used by terrorists at the time of the strike," a US statement said. "Three Zarqawi associates were reported to be in the area. No other individuals were present at the time of the strike." As with many other US air strikes described as precisely targeting terrorists, local doctors disagreed. Dr Rafi Hayad said eight people were killed by the air attacks, four of them children and two women.
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