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Britain OKs Use of Indian Ocean Base for US B-2 Bombers

The Pentagon says it has received permission from Britain to base B-2 stealth bombers on the British island of Diego Garcia. But defense officials say future deployments of the plane to the Indian Ocean base, which was developed as a joint U.S.-U.K. air and naval refueling and support station during the Cold War, have nothing to do with current planning for a possible war with Iraq.

A senior defense official tells VOA the United States first discussed the possibility of basing the batwing-shaped B-2 stealth bomber on the island of Diego Garcia two years ago.

The official says initial talks focused on erecting temporary shelters on the Indian Ocean island for the aircraft. But he says it was later determined more permanent structures are needed to house the sophisticated planes.

The official says Britain gave its go-ahead to start construction two-to-three months ago. The official say the work will take some time. He is not more specific.

It is not clear how many B-2's the United States intends to base on Diego Garcia. However the Air Force has just 21 of the expensive bombers, suggesting only a handful might be deployed on the island.

It would be the first time the B-2 has been based outside the United States.

The plane was used on missions in Afghanistan but flew roundtrip from the United States. Basing the bomber on Diego Garcia would cut in half the distance the plane would have to fly to reach targets in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

Still, the senior official who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity, says the move has nothing to do with current planning efforts relating to a possible military action against Baghdad. The official calls the Diego Garcia move a long-term project.