Pentagon orders combat aircraft to Gulf region
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon on Wednesday ordered dozens of warplanes to move to forward bases in the Persian Gulf region in what Pentagon sources say is the initial buildup of forces in America's "new war" against terrorism.
The deployment includes B-52 heavy bombers, KC-135 refueling tankers and other support aircraft, according to Pentagon sources.
The Pentagon is not disclosing the exact destinations of the aircraft. Officials with individual units will be able to confirm they are being deployed, but not the locations. In the Gulf region, the U.S. has facilities for aircraft in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Pentagon sources say a second deployment order is also in the works that could push the number of planes moved to forward bases to more than 100. The deployment of planes will begin in the next few days.
Under the orders, according to these sources, some B-52 heavy bombers, capable of firing cruise missiles, will likely move to a joint U.S.-British base in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
Sources say the initial deployment of planes is initially aimed at providing more strike aircraft to patrol the southern no-fly zone in Iraq, and free up the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, last known to be in the Persian Gulf.
The United States already has stationed the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in the Arabian Sea, and a third carrier -- the USS Theodore Roosevelt -- departed Norfolk, Virginia, on Wednesday. It is possible the Roosevelt and its support ships could be headed to the region.
Some of the tanker and support aircraft planes being deployed are to provide aerial refueling for an "air bridge" to get the planes from the United States to the region.
CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre reported that Pentagon sources said the deployment is to give President Bush the maximum number of options for any retaliatory strikes in response to last week's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Sources also told CNN that "Operation Infinite Justice" is the tentative name selected for any retaliatory strikes, pending White House approval.
The name follows the name of a previous U.S. response action. "Operation Infinite Reach" was the code name for the August 1998 attack at Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan. The cruise missile attack killed at least 20 people but bin Laden escaped injury.
The aircraft being deployed to the Gulf have a variety of capabilities. The latest mission of the venerable B-52, which first entered service in 1955 as a heavy bomber, is carrying air-launched cruise missiles. The KC-135 Stratotanker's principal mission is air refueling of Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft as well as aircraft of other allied nations.
The deployment adds to the two aircraft carriers in the region, both of which have 75 aircraft aboard. The USS Theodore Roosevelt is headed for the Mediterranean Sea but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the carrier will go there and "perhaps points east."
The move of the Roosevelt and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is a regularly scheduled deployment, according to the Pentagon, and includes about 15,000 sailors and Marines
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