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Military / Terrorist Attacks

Pentagon orders dozens of warplanes to Gulf, Asia
By STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS, The Virginian-Pilot
© September 20, 2001

WASHINGTON -- American warplanes began flying overseas from U.S. bases Wednesday as the Pentagon ordered dozens of fighters, bombers and other aircraft to the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and -- in an unprecedented move -- the two former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Defense Department officials said.

In the military's first concrete steps toward war, the aircraft being deployed under what the Pentagon dubbed Operation Infinite Justice include F-15E fighter-bombers, F-16 fighters, B-1 long-range bombers, AWACS airborne command-and-control aircraft, refuelers and other support aircraft, officials said.

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Several additional waves of deployments are expected as the war buildup continues, according to Pentagon planners.

``There are movements, and you will see more movements,'' Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said.

Tonight, President Bush will seek to rally domestic support for the battle on terrorism in a televised speech to Congress in which he is expected to detail the threat posed by Osama bin Laden while seeking to reassure an anxious public.

The movement of the U.S. warplanes is the first step in fleshing out the sweeping rhetoric that Bush and his senior officials have used in recent days to describe the scope and duration of their planned counterattack on terrorism.

Two aircraft carriers are in the Middle East and a third, the Norfolk-based Theodore Roosevelt, sailed Wednesday; it could arrive in the region in about two weeks.

Although the Pentagon didn't say which air bases would be supplying planes for the buildup, Langley Air Force Base in Hampton is a likely candidate.

Langley is home to the 1st Fighter Wing, whose three squadrons of F-15s have seen repeated deployments to the Persian Gulf and other world hot spots in recent years.

In addition to the deployment to the Persian Gulf region, Air Force planes have been flying defensive patrols over major U.S. cities since the terrorist attacks.

Langley also hosts the Air Combat Command, the main combat arm of the Air Force, which is responsible for supplying forces to regional military commanders around the world.

Pentagon planners said the aircraft will provide cover for U.S. special forces missions out of Pakistan against alleged terrorists and countries that support them, beginning with bin Laden, who is believed to be living in Afghanistan.

Bush has not issued orders on how to use the aircraft, but moving the planes gives him flexibility, officials said. ``The whole thing is complex,'' said one officer. ``It's still evolving.''

The president appeared to allude to the two-step nature of the offensive being contemplated when said Wednesday, ``One of our focuses is to get people out of their caves -- smoke 'em out, and get 'em moving, and get 'em.''

According to Pentagon officials, special forces would stage attacks against suspected terrorist hideouts, in Afghanistan and possibly elsewhere. Airstrikes then would be used against the terrorists as they moved to more vulnerable locations.

Pentagon officials have hinted repeatedly that they are contemplating military action against locations elsewhere than Afghanistan.

Bush said, ``Anybody who houses a terrorist, encourages terrorism, will be held accountable.''

The first aircraft left Wednesday for bases in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, in addition to the two central Asian nations. They will join several hundred U.S. aircraft already based in the gulf region. Since the war against Iraq, the United States has kept about 20,000 troops in the region, with about 5,000 in Saudia Arabia, nearly the same number in Kuwait and about 10,000 aboard Navy ships. It has dozens of fighters and other aircraft in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and also keeps enough tanks, artillery and trucks in Kuwait to outfit an Army brigade.

The deployment of U.S. warplanes to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where Russia still has thousands of troops stationed, is unprecedented and is likely to be logistically difficult, given their remote location north of Afghanistan. It underscores how last week's attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are reshaping America's relations with foreign nations across the globe.

It also could have important effects in central Asia. The willingness of the former Soviet republics to accept U.S. forces will increase the pressure on Pakistan, Afghanistan's southern neighbor, to follow suit and permit the U.S. military to operate from its soil.

The presence of F-15s in predominantly Muslim central Asia also will likely decrease political pressure on Saudi Arabia. The Air Force plans to run its end of the war from Prince Sultan Air Base, near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where this summer it opened an air operations center.

About 1,500 Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are scheduled to leave Camp Lejeune, N.C., today for a regularly scheduled mission in the Arabian Sea.

The Washington Post and staff writers Bill Sizemore and Dale Eisman contributed to this report.


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