Britain and the United States plan to reduce their
military presence in and around Iraq.
The United States will withdraw some of its naval and air assets from
the Persian Gulf while Britain has already begun pulling out troops and
combat jets from Iraq.
The U.S. Navy has ordered the departure of two carrier battle groups
centered around the USS Constellation and Kitty Hawk, officials said. Three
carrier battle groups in the region Ñ the USS Nimitz, Harry S. Truman and
Theodore Roosevelt Ñ will remain in the northern Gulf.
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Officials said U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks is examining
the prospect of reducing ground-based air assets, such as attack
helicopters. They said Central Command will also revise its troop deployment
in Iraq as the Pentagon expects that country to stabilize. They said the
coalition has yet to secure several Iraqi towns, including Al Qaim, near the
Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director of operations for the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, said the number of daily air sorties over Iraq has dropped
from 1,000 to as few as 700. He told a Pentagon briefing on Monday that the
number of precision-guided munitions dropped over a 24-hour period has
decreased to around 200.
"As major combat operations wind down," McChrystal said, "we'll still
conduct some minor combat operations to include some sharp fights in areas
and adjust our operations in each area."
On Tuesday, the United States began to withdraw the first of 1,000
soldiers deployed in Turkey. The U.S. troops were in Turkey to help with the
air war in neighboring Iraq.
Britain has begun to withdraw troops and military assets from Iraq and
Kuwait. Britain contributed 45,000 troops, 120 tanks and 100 aircraft for
the war in Iraq.
"It would not make sense to keep personnel in the region any longer than
is necessary," British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram said. "Some have
already returned and some will return shortly."
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said his country would maintain
warships and related forces in the Gulf region. Britain has been entrusted
with mine-clearing operations in the waterway.
"Significant maritime forces will remain in the Gulf to continue
important continuing tasks, including mine clearance operations, logistic
support and force protection," Hoon said. "We also continue to keep our
requirements in the land and air environments under review."