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April 12, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
U.S. May Send Battle Groups Home
U.S. Navy Seeks to Send Two Carrier Battle Groups Home, Kitty Hawk Could Return Within Days

The Associated Press


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WASHINGTON April 12

Now that the air war over Iraq is winding down, the Navy is seeking to send home, within days, two of the three aircraft carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf, the commander of all naval forces in the Gulf said Saturday.

Vice Adm. Timothy Keating told reporters in a videotelecast news conference from his Gulf headquarters that the first to head home will likely be the USS Kitty Hawk, whose home base is Yokosuka, Japan.

He said the USS Constellation, based in San Diego, may go home soon, too. He stressed that the decision is up to Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall war commander, and that no orders have been issued yet.

The Navy has been flying planes from a total of five carrier battle groups within striking distance of Iraq, including two in the eastern Mediterranean, since the war began March 20.

"It's likely we'll decrease that number gradually in the days ahead," Keating said.

Pentagon officials, meanwhile, are concerned that the looting and destruction of government offices in Iraq could destroy evidence related to weapons of mass destruction the United States wants to find.

U.S. and coalition forces also are working to prevent Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological weapons experts from fleeing the country, defense officials say. Some Iraqi officials trying to leave Iraq through Syria, for example, are believed to be those with ties to weapons programs.

Finding and eliminating the chemical and biological weapons manufactured by Saddam Hussein's defunct regime is a top priority of the U.S.-led military forces in Iraq. To do so, the troops must find the documents and experts that can tell them where the banned materials are.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday that U.S. forces were working "as best we can" to secure the documents, material and people needed to root out weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. officials fear documents and other clues to weapons of mass destruction are being destroyed as Iraqi government facilities are ransacked.

Aid organizations said the lawlessness was making the humanitarian situation in Baghdad worse and urged the Bush administration to move quickly against it.

The U.S. military rejected criticism that it was allowing a wave of looting and violence to take place, saying troops must remain focused on combat, not restoring order.

Rumsfeld characterized the looting as "untidiness" and part of a transitional phase after the fall of Saddam's government and on the way to freedom.

"Stuff happens," Rumsfeld said.

Much of the looting was at government ministries and the homes of former regime leaders, with bands of looters taking everything from vases, desks and other furnishings from government offices to AK-47s and ammunition from Iraqi military bunkers.

But they also stripped foreign embassies, took ambulances from hospitals and attacked some private businesses. In the northern city of Mosul, residents burned buildings, stole rare manuscripts from the university library and grabbed wads of money from a bank as local people with accounts deposited there looked on sadly.

Marine commanders in Iraq acknowledged confusion in providing security. U.S. troops and tanks guarded only a few hotels, key intersections, overpasses and apparently at least one hospital, but a Marine commander said he didn't have enough men to do more.


photo credit and caption:
Airman Jeremy Strode of Detroit signals to an F/A-18C Hornet on the flight deck of the carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Arabian Gulf Wednesday, April 2, 2003. The Kitty Hawk, the U.S. Navy's oldest active ship, remains a giant, complicated machine for launching planes into combat. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Todd Frantom)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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