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US Navy to Divert Ships from Mediterranean to Red Sea - 2003-03-13

The U.S.Navy soon plans to divert about a dozen warships to the Red Sea from the eastern Mediterranean for a possible attack on Iraq.

A senior military official says the move could take place within "a matter of a very few days," and would mainly involve cruise-missile firing vessels.

The disclosure follows word from other Pentagon sources that two aircraft carriers in the eastern Mediterranean might also be moved shortly to the northern Red Sea.

The strategic shift is tied to Turkey's failure to grant the United States permission to let cruise missiles or aircraft fly from the Mediterranean through its airspace to targets in Iraq.

The ships will now be relocated in a brief transit through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea, where they could be used to fire the missiles and launch aircraft across Saudi Arabia.

At the same time, defense officials confirm U.S. B-2 stealth bombers have departed their base in the midwestern United States.

They were believed to be headed to bases in England and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, where there are special facilities for the radar-avoiding aircraft.

The B-2 bombers and cruise missiles are widely expected to be among the first participants in any assault on Iraq.

About a quarter million U.S.military personnel are now gathered in the Gulf region in preparation for a possible war.