Navy to reduce number of aircraft carriers in Arabian Sea from two to one

Monday, April 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon has decided to reduce naval forces committed to the war in Afghanistan by cutting the number of aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea from two to one, officials said Monday.

The USS John F. Kennedy will remain in the area but the USS John C. Stennis will depart as scheduled in the next few weeks, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The USS Kitty Hawk, which was to have replaced the Stennis, instead will remain in its normal operating area off Japan.

The carriers, whose battle group each includes more than 5,000 sailors and marines, are part of an enormous U.S. military force in the Persian Gulf area and in Central Asia that has been attacking Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan since October. They are commanded by Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of U.S. Central Command.

At Central Command headquarters Monday, a spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Bruce Erickson, declined to comment on the naval force reductions, which were first reported over the weekend by The New York Times.

F-14 and F/A-18 strike aircraft, plus surveillance and other support planes, have been flying from the Stennis and Kennedy on missions over Afghanistan, although they have not been dropping bombs since the March attacks on Taliban and al-Qaida forces in the Shah-e-Kot area of eastern Afghanistan.

Land-based Air Force fighters can conduct the same missions from bases on the periphery of Afghanistan.

One official said it was likely that in addition to reducing the aircraft carrier presence, the Pentagon also would move one of the two Marine Corps amphibious ready groups _ each with about 2,200 Marines aboard _ out of the area.