Allies begin to withdraw some forces from Gulf

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

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 the USS Nimitz, Harry S. Truman and Theodore Roosevelt 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 Syrian border.

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."

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