WASHINGTON April 13 —
The U.S. military is beginning to pull some attack planes out of
the Iraq war, now that the major ground battles are over and the
focus is shifting to stabilizing the country.
The air campaign is far from over, but its focus has shifted away
from heavy bombing toward protective air cover for ground troops
around Baghdad and in northern Iraq.
Surveillance and reconnaissance missions by U-2 spy planes,
unmanned Predator drones and other aircraft are continuing apace,
and aerial refueling and cargo planes are still very busy.
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.
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 no such orders have been received.
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.
In addition to the three aircraft carriers in the Gulf, the Navy
has used two in the eastern Mediterranean the USS Harry S. Truman
and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, both home-ported in Norfolk, Va.
Their planes have concentrated mostly on targets in northern
Keating said either the Truman or the Roosevelt likely would be
sent home soon. He didn't say which it would be, but he noted that
the Truman is on a regularly scheduled deployment, whereas the
Roosevelt had a shorter-than-usual period at its home before
deploying to the Mediterranean in February.
|Air Chaplain Dan Reardon from
Chillicothe, Mo., blesses an F/A-18 strike fighter prior to a
flight mission aboard the USS Nimitz on Saturday April 12,
2003. Reardon makes the rounds blessing the planes each day
before they depart on their missions over Iraq. (AP
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