Army gets orders: 'We're ready to go'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon has issued deployment orders to Army units, in addition to the dozens of warplanes already ordered to go to the Persian Gulf region, in what sources said is the initial buildup of forces in America's "new war" against terrorism.
At a news conference Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he would not disclose any details about the deployment.
"We are trying to get ourselves arranged in the world, with our forces, in places that we believe conceivably could be useful in the event the president decided to use them," Rumsfeld said.
Army Secretary Thomas White said earlier on Thursday that the Army is receiving orders to deploy units -- but he could not be more specific.
"Our business is to sustain land combat and we are ready to conduct it with all the aspects of our force structure, which would include our conventional heavy forces, our conventional light forces, aviation, special ops," White said. "That's what we get paid to do. We're ready to go."
White said the Army Rangers and other special operations forces "will play a prominent role in any campaign that we conduct going forward, as they have in past campaigns."
Asked if the United States had learned any lessons from the defeat of the former Soviet Union by Afghan guerrilla fighters in the 1980s, White said: "I certainly hope so. We certainly paid attention to it."
On Wednesday, the Pentagon ordered dozens of warplanes to move to forward bases in the Persian Gulf region. The deployment includes B-52 bombers, B-1 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 United States 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.
Lt. David Faggard at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, confirmed to CNN that the base is "moving aircraft and moving troops." He said several KC-135s have taken off, but would not talk about their specific mission or confirm that the destination is overseas.
The first B-1 bombers and B-52s will be leaving from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota in the next day or two.
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.
U.S. and British warplanes bombed anti-aircraft artillery in Iraq's southern no-fly zone Thursday "in response to recent Iraqi hostile threats against coalition aircraft conducting routine" patrols of southern Iraq, according to the Pentagon. An anti-aircraft site in southern Iraq was also bombed on Tuesday.
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 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. On Thursday, Rumsfeld said the name is being reconsidered because in the Islamic religion only Allah can provide infinite justice
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. On Tuesday, 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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