The Pentagon has ordered a group of U.S. Air Force bombers to Guam in what is terms a routine deployment to the Western Pacific.
A year ago, the Pentagon ordered 24 B-1 and B-52 bombers to Guam in what was characterized then as a prudent defensive move at a time of tensions with North Korea as other U.S. forces were poised for war with Iraq.
Now Defense officials say bombers will return to the island in a routine deployment designed to underscore the U.S. commitment to the Western Pacific.
The official announcement released by the military's Pacific Command does not say how many aircraft will be deployed to Guam, when they will arrive or how long they will stay.
However last month, the top Air Force officer in the Pacific, General William Begert, was quoted as telling reporters that "the ability to project force from Guam is very valuable to us." He disclosed that the Air Force wanted to base a variety of aircraft on the island, including fighter jets and support planes in addition to bombers. The general said his travels in Asia had made clear to him that countries in the region wanted a U.S. military presence. He was quoted as saying "they don't see us as threatening. Quite the opposite, they see us as stabilizing."
During last year's bomber deployment to Guam, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted the move was not intended as a threatening signal to Pyongyang.
However last year's move followed an incident in which North Korean fighters intercepted an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance plane in international airspace off the North Korean coast. U.S. officials described the North Korean action as provocative.