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U.S. fighters, bombers head home

From CNN Pentagon Producer Mike Mount

The F-117 was used to launch the opening salvo in the war.
The F-117 was used to launch the opening salvo in the war.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With the U.S. declaring all major combat in Iraq was over, the U.S. Central Command has started releasing Air Force planes from duty in the region, Pentagon officials say.

Central Command sent a small number or B-2 stealth bombers home to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri last week and a number of F-117 stealth fighters have been sent home to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico after completing wartime missions.

The B-2 bombers sent home were flying bombing missions between Diego Garcia -- an island in the Indian Ocean -- and Iraq. Other B-2s flew round-trip missions between their base in Missouri and Iraq.

The F-117s that returned to the United States this week were deployed February 3 with about 300 support personnel. The support team is expected to return to New Mexico later this month, officials said.

Other fighter planes used for patrolling the old northern and southern no-fly zones have been redeployed to other parts of the region or also have been sent to their home bases, according to officials.

Central Command is also sending home as many as three aircraft carrier battle groups within the next week after using them for strike operations over Iraq.

Pentagon officials said that they would expect to see an accelerated pace of fighters returning home over the next few weeks.

The repositioning and redeployment of air and sea assets comes as Central Command cuts back on strike missions and starts to focus on stability in Iraq and the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

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