Warplanes ordered to deploy
By PAUL KORING, The Globe and Mail
Thursday, September 20, 2001
WASHINGTON -- More than 100 U.S. warplanes could begin flying to forward bases in the Middle East as soon as today in a deployment dubbed Operation Infinite Justice.
This bolstering of the already formidable air power the United States has based in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia is the first significant overseas deployment as Washington girds for punitive strikes against states it accuses of harbouring and supporting terrorists.
The air armada -- which will include F-15 and F-16 fighters, F-117 stealth strike fighters as well as support aircraft -- was ordered out only hours after a naval battle group left for the Mediterranean, according to defence officials.
The deployment will roughly double the number of combat aircraft Washington has in the Middle East.
Although the warplanes are presumed to be destined for existing U.S. bases in Kuwait and Bahrain, Washington has reportedly secured permission from India to use its military facilities.
Any strikes against Afghanistan -- where Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect as mastermind of last week's terrorist attacks, is a so-called guest of the Taliban government -- would be easier to mount if U.S. aircraft could operate from bases close to the landlocked, mountainous state.
U.S. and British aircraft operating from Kuwait, Bahrain and Turkey already conduct air strikes against Iraq to enforce no-fly zones.
On the water, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, accompanied by a dozen warships and submarines, left Norfolk, Va., yesterday on a supposedly routine deployment to the Mediterranean.
"It is time for us to pick up the mantle to destroy terrorism and remove this cancer," U.S. Navy Secretary Gordon England told the carrier's crew of 5,000 just before it left the dock with the band playing New York, New York in tribute to the thousands killed last week when terrorists toppled the World Trade Center towers.
The Roosevelt could be ordered to pass through the Suez Canal and join two other carrier battle groups already in the Arabian Sea. The United States normally keeps one carrier battle group based in the Persian Gulf but ordered the USS Enterprise's group to remain in the region even after the USS Carl Vinson and its group arrived to replace it last week.
Each carrier has about 60 warplanes and the accompanying warships and submarines can fire cruise missiles.
It will take more than a week to deploy the additional ground-based combat aircraft and about 10 days before the Roosevelt battle group reaches the Arabian Sea if it is ordered there.
By the end of the month, Washington could have nearly 400 combat aircraft on the Arabian Peninsula and in nearby waters.