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U.S. may be close to reducing carrier fleet deployed for war

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is a few days from reducing its fleet of aircraft carriers deployed for the war in Iraq, Vice Adm. Timothy Keating said during a news briefing on the U.S. Navy's role in the conflict.

Keating said the first vessel could go home in a couple of days if the order comes from the U.S. Central Command.

U.S. Navy carriers launched 200 sorties Friday over northern Iraq alone, providing air support to U.S. Marine and Special Operations forces in Tikrit and Mosul.

"If the sortie requirement goes down, then we can send carriers home," Keating said.

The USS Abraham Lincoln left Saturday after a 10-month deployment. It is being replaced by the USS Nimitz.

Three carriers, the Nimitz, the USS Kitty Hawk and the USS Constellation remain in the Persian Gulf and two other -- the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Harry S Truman -- are in the eastern Mediterranean, Keating said.

The Kitty Hawk, the Constellation and one of the carriers in the Mediterranean would be among the first to be sent back, once U.S. Central Command head Gen. Tommy Franks gives the okay, Keating said.

Since March 20, Keating said, coalition forces have flown more than 7,000 sorties from U.S. Navy carriers in the region, he said. The carriers have launched more than 800 tomahawk missiles since March 19, he said.

Of the 800 cruise missiles fired from U.S. Navy carriers about 10 missed their target, landing in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Keating said.

Additionally, a months-long campaign that dropped 44 million leaflets over Iraq probably contributed a great deal to the "total lack of scud launches" against coalition forces, Keating said.

Some of the leaflets advised Iraqi soldiers and civilians not to shoot any scuds, he said. Reports from the early days of the war that a stray U.S. cruise missile landed in Iran still have not been verified, Keating said.

"I'm not aware there was one," he said. "I know there have been pieces of ordinance found, but I'm not aware of any conclusive results."

Keating said more than 80 Iraqi POWs and 40 Iraqi civilians were injured severely enough during the war that they needed to be airlifted to the USS Comfort hospital ship, stationed in the northern Persian Gulf, Keating said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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