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Reuters November 7, 2002

U.S., British forces in Middle East

WASHINGTON, Nov 7 (Reuters) - The following U.S. and British forces are in and around the Middle East and could be used in an attack on Iraq. U.S. officials say "host-nation sensitivities" prevent them from saying where many U.S. forces in the area are based.

-- Two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups are in or near striking range of Iraq. They are led by the nuclear-powered Abraham Lincoln and the George Washington, the world's largest warships, each carrying about 70 warplanes and accompanied by destroyers, cruisers and submarines all capable of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles.

-- The Lincoln, a Nimitz-class carrier, is the first to deploy the new F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, a multi-role strike fighter capable of both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions day and night, including dropping laser-guided bombs. The Super Hornet made its combat debut Nov. 6 in response to Iraqi hostile acts to U.S.-British aircraft policing a no-fly zone over southern Iraq, the U.S. Central Command said.

-- The Washington, also a Nimitz-class carrier, has been in the Mediterranean along with the Los Angeles-class Oklahoma City attack submarine and the rest of its battle group.

-- A third U.S. aircraft carrier group, led by the Constellation, left San Diego, California, on Nov. 2 for a scheduled six-month deployment in the North Arabian Sea. The Constellation, a Kitty Hawk-class carrier, is due to replace the Lincoln. All three could remain in the region if ordered.

-- The Ark Royal, a British aircraft carrier, is due in Portsmouth Nov. 8, and scheduled to depart again "early in the new year" for six months with its 15 to 20 warplanes, British officials said.


-- A U.S. Navy command and control ship, the Mount Whitney, is being deployed as temporary headquarters for a new U.S.-led command aimed at rooting out suspected terrorists in and around northeastern Africa. About 800 U.S. military personnel, including special operations forces, are currently based in Djibouti. They will be folded into the new Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa along with forces expected to be contributed by coalition partners, said Marine Maj. Steve Cox, the new unit's spokesman.

-- Overall, about 57,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, air force personnel and Marines are now in the greater Gulf area, including about 9,000 in Afghanistan and thousands afloat, Navy Lt. Daniel Hetlage, a Defense Department spokesman, said Nov. 7.

-- The Nassau, flagship of a three-ship "amphibious ready group," is in the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility to support the U.S.-declared war on terror. An amphibious ready group typically carries AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters, AV-8B Harrier jump jets and amphibious landing craft to send Marines and their combat gear ashore. Embarked is the Camp Lejeune, North Carolina-based 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, whose personnel are trained in special operations.

-- U.S. heavy B-2 bombers, which fired opening salvos in last two U.S. wars, are to be moved to the British-held Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and Fairford, England, the first time they will be based overseas rather than at Whiteman Air Force Base in central Missouri. Timing of the move has not been announced. The radar-evading aircraft can carry 40,000 pounds (18,180 kg) of bombs, including 5,000-pound (2,273 kg) "bunker buster" bombs that can burrow up to 30 feet (nine metres) into rock or reinforced concrete.

-- Diego Garcia, a British base 3,340 miles (5,345 km) from Baghdad used by the United States as a staging point in the Gulf War, is home to a fleet of B-52 heavy bombers.

-- In Kuwait, which borders Iraq, the Army has prepositioned enough weapons to support two combat brigades or about 6,000 troops. The 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia, is currently rotating its three brigades through tours of duty there. Each brigade has about 116 M-1 Abrams tanks, 60 M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, 100 armored personnel carriers and 20 155-mm artillery guns, plus a helicopter assault capability and search and rescue personnel. Enough weapons to equip another armored Army brigade are afloat in the region, according to Major Richard Steele, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command's Army component.

-- Qatar's al Udeid air base, home to the longest runway in the Gulf, has recently been upgraded by the United States. Air-to-air refueling KC10 and KC-135 tanker aircraft operate there in support of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and to police Iraq's southern no-fly zone.

-- Bahrain is headquarters for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet and regional headquarters for the U.S. Marine Corps.

-- Oman is hosting U.S. B-1B bombers, most likely from an airfield at Thumarit, said GlobalSecurity.org researcher Patrick Garrett, who is tracking deployments.

-- In Turkey, Incirlik Air Base plays host to more than 4,000 U.S. and allied military personnel, of whom about 1,400 directly support F-15 and F-16 fighters as well as EA-6B Navy Prowler electronic warfare aircraft policing the northern no-fly zone over Iraq. A further 150 aircraft and 6,000 personnel support the no-fly zone patrols over southern Iraq from different locations on land and afloat.


-- Three U.S. Navy cargo transport ships, the Bellatrix, Bob Hope and Fisher -- part of the standby "Surge Fleet" -- have left U.S. shores in recent weeks. They are transporting headquarters materiel for the Marine Corps and support gear for mechanized U.S. Army units to undisclosed destinations, said Military Sealift Command spokeswoman Marge Holtz.

-- There are at least 17 U.S. Navy and chartered ships packed with tanks, heavy armor, vehicles and other supplies for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps anchored at Diego Garcia, within a few days sail of Gulf waters.

-- Six vessels, U.S. Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron Two, contain equipment and supplies to support 17,300 Marines for 30 days according to Military Sealift Command.

-- Eight others, just short of the length of aircraft carriers, and similarly packed with tanks and ammunition, make up Afloat Prepositioning Squadron Four. The ships support a heavy U.S. Army brigade of up to 3,500 troops.

ęCopyright 2002 Reuters Limited.