Stealth fighters like those used for bombing attacks on Baghdad on the first night of the 1991 Gulf War have left the United States for an undisclosed location in the Middle East.
Defense officials say the F-117 "Nighthawk" stealth fighters departed their base in the southwestern state of New Mexico late Monday, stopping Tuesday in Europe en route to the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility.
That area includes the Gulf region, where nearly 90,000 U.S. military personnel along with their ships, planes, tanks and other equipment have been massing for a possible new war with Iraq.
During the 1991 Gulf war, the F-117's were the only aircraft allowed to strike targets inside Baghdad's city limits, destroying or crippling military headquarters, communications sites, air defense centers and power stations.
The "Nighthawks" represented just a small percentage of all coalition aircraft involved in the war. But they flew more than a third of the bombing runs on the first day of the conflict.
News of their departure for the region comes as the Defense Department has disclosed it is looking into allegations of improprieties by the man in charge of the U.S. Central Command and the likely commander of American forces if there is a new war with Iraq.
Army four-star General Tommy Franks is accused of letting his wife attend classified military briefings, of giving her a military bodyguard she was not entitled to and of failing to reimburse the government for her travel when she accompanied him on official trips.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the charges will not affect the General's ability to run a war. "There isn't a chance in the world that it will have any possible interference with his role as the combatant commander in the Central Command," he said. "Tom Franks is doing a superb job for this country and we are lucky to have him there. He is a man of great talent and skill."
Mr. Rumsfeld plays down the allegations, saying such charges against senior officers are not uncommon. He also rejects suggestions his expression of confidence in General Franks might constitute unfair high-level influence that could compromise the military's internal investigation.