WASHINGTON April 12 —
The allied air campaign that tore into Iraq's best defenses and
targeted its top leaders is winding down, and U.S. war commanders
are preparing to send home some planes.
Vice Adm. Timothy Keating, the commander of all naval forces in
the war, said Saturday that two or three of the five U.S. aircraft
carriers launching planes on missions over Iraq may head home soon.
Each carrier has about 80 planes aboard, including about 50 strike
He said the USS Kitty Hawk, which has operated in the Persian
Gulf since February, probably would be the first to leave, possibly
"in a couple of days." Its home port is Yokosuka, Japan.
The USS Constellation, also in the Gulf and on its final active
deployment, probably would go next, he said.
Also, either the USS Theodore Roosevelt or the USS Harry S.
Truman battle groups both in the eastern Mediterranean for air
missions over northern Iraq may be sent home soon, he said.
Keating said orders to send carriers and other forces home would
have to come from Gen. Tommy Franks, the war's overall commander,
and that he has received no such orders.
The first ship to have returned home was the USS Portland, part
of an amphibious task force that carried 7,000 Marines to Kuwait in
February. The Portland arrived at Little Creek, Va., on Friday.
The Air Force already has sent four B-2 stealth bombers back home
to Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., officials said. They were flying
missions over Iraq from the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and
from Fairford air base in Britain. Other B-2s flew roundtrip
missions from Whiteman.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon in a videotelecast news
conference from his headquarters in Bahrain, Keating said that as
the bombing in Iraq slackens, the Navy will be ready to reduce the
number of carriers on duty and give the sailors and air crews time
"We're anxious to get those folks back to their home ports as
soon as we can," Keating said.
The third carrier in the Gulf, the USS Nimitz, just arrived as a
replacement for the USS Abraham Lincoln, which is en route to its
home port of Everett, Wash., after nearly nine months at sea.
The focus of the air campaign changed drastically with the fall
of Baghdad and the collapse of Iraqi resistance in the northern
cities of Mosul and Kirkuk in recent days. Air Force, Navy and
Marine Corps planes are still flying combat missions, but they are
dropping few bombs.
The total number of air missions on Friday, for example, slipped
to 1,525 from the 1,700 or so that had been flown during most days
of the war, and the number of attack missions dropped from the usual
550-650 to 375, according to figures released by the air command
Saturday's flight total dipped to 1,475 but strike missions rose
Attack planes flying from carriers and land bases in and around
Iraq are flying in support of allied ground troops, mainly in
northern Iraq and over Baghdad. They are expected to continue flying
many surveillance and reconnaissance missions throughout the country
for some time. But a key target of earlier bombing the Republican
Guard has been eliminated.
All five carriers have been launching aircraft on missions over
Iraq since the war started, and ships and submarines in their battle
groups have fired more than 800 cruise missiles.
In contrast to the expected reduction in air forces in the Gulf
region, the Army is still sending more ground troops. The 4th
Infantry Division, recently arrived in Kuwait, has begun moving into
Iraq, and the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, is still
preparing to deploy, officials said.
The Pentagon reported that the number of Americans killed in the
war rose by two Saturday to 109. The additions were Army Staff Sgt.
Terry W. Hemingway, 39, of Willingboro, N.J., killed in action April
10, and Army Sgt. 1st Class John W. Marshall, 50, of Los Angeles,
killed April 8.
Ten Americans are listed as missing and seven are prisoners of
In the interview from his Bahrain headquarters, Keating said that
about 140 American and coalition partner ships are involved in the
war, and that they are on guard against terrorist threats.
"We have ongoing intelligence that al-Qaida terrorists are still
intent on wreaking mayhem on ships," he said.
Keating also said that Scud missiles, which are a banned weapon
in Iraq, have been spotted on the ground by U.S. and British
soldiers and Marines. His chief spokesman, Cmdr. Jeff Alderson, said
in an interview later that although Keating used the term "Scud" in
describing the missiles, he was referring to other
surface-to-surface missiles that are similar to Scuds.
Under the cease-fire arrangement that ended the 1991 war, Iraq
was required to destroy all of its Scud missiles, which it fired at
U.S. troops as well as Israel and Saudi Arabia during that war.
Iraq has declared that it possesses no Scuds, and none has been
launched in the current war. U.S. intelligence agencies have
estimated that Iraq retained about two dozen Scuds.
Keating said an extensive U.S. leaflet-dropping campaign aimed at
discouraging Iraq from firing Scud missiles resulted in "a total
lack of Scud launches," adding, "we've seen some on the ground."
He noted that Iraq launched 13 other surface-to-surface missiles
during the war, and that in 12 of those cases Navy surveillance
aircraft like the P-3 Orion were able to provide early warning to
the Army's Patriot anti-missile batteries. That made the Patriots
more effective, he said.
|The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz,
the fast combat support ship USS Bridge, center, and the
guided missile cruiser USS Princeton, right, participate in a
resupply operation while deployed in the Arabian Gulf
Thursday, April 10, 2003 in support of the war in Iraq. The
Nimitz replaced the USS Abraham Lincoln. (AP Photo/U.S.
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