US Navy Moves Missile-firing Ships from Mediterranean to Red Sea

The Pentagon approved a US Navy order Thursday to move about a dozen missile-firing cruisers and destroyers from the eastern Mediterranean to the Red Sea, a move seemingly prompted by Turkey's refusal to grant overflight rights for US planes and missiles, officials said.

The warships, many carrying more than 100 long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles, are part of the USS Harry S. Truman and USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier battle groups, which have been deployed in the eastern Mediterranean for weeks.

From the Red Sea the warships would be able to launch the satellite-guided Tomahawk for flights over Saudi Arabia to targets in Iraq. The Tomahawk, designed to evade radar, are normally used in the opening stages of war to strike heavily defended enemy targets.

Turkey has so far refused to grant US forces overflight rights or allow more than 62,000 US troops to use its military bases.

The warship deployment came as the Air Force began the deployment of B-2 stealth bombers, part of a massive military buildup in the Gulf region which has entered its final stage for apossible war with Iraq.

Lt. Matt Hasson, a spokesman at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, said the radar-evading batwing B-2s flew out of the baseon Wednesday night, but he gave no further details.

Pentagon officials said last month that the B-2 unit had been ordered to move to overseas bases closer to Iraq: A base in Britain and a base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. TheAir Force has built special hangars at the two bases.

The B-2 bombers are among the most advanced warplanes of the US Air Force, each capable of carrying up to 20 2,000-pound (900 kg) satellite-guided bombs. The Pentagon already has deployed B-1 bombers and radar-evading F-117 stealth fighters in the Gulf region.

The B-2 unit would join a massive force of nearly 270,000 American and British troops in the Gulf ready for a military showdown with Iraq.

Developed for long-range missions in the Cold War, the B-2 was used for combat missions in the wars in Kosovo in 1999 and in Afghanistan in 2001.



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