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Last Updated:  Friday, 14 March, 2003, 11:58 GMT
US beefs up firepower
B-2 stealth bomber
B-2s have been used in Kosovo and Afghanistan
The US is moving about a dozen warships from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea as part of its continuing preparations for war in Iraq.

The cruisers and destroyers are armed with Tomahawk missiles, satellite-guided weapons which would be used in the early days of any war in Iraq to destroy key installations.

Originally the US had planned to fire missiles from the eastern Mediterranean through Turkish airspace.

However the Turkish parliament recently voted against the deployment of US troops on its soil, and therefore the ships will instead pass through the Suez canal into the Red Sea and fire through Saudi Arabian airspace.

If [we are] called on to do this mission, there is no doubt about who is the victor
General Tommy Franks,
US Central Command

But US General Tommy Franks, who will be in overall command of any military action, said he has "no doubt" that his forces will still be able to carry out their mission.

"There is absolutely no question in my mind that if the president of the United States decides to take military action that we have sufficient military capacity to do the job that America's military would be asked to do," he told the BBC.

And he said he is certain the US would win.

"If [we are] called on to do this mission, there is no doubt about who is the victor," he said.

Sandstorm

But a huge sandstorm on Thursday served to remind the roughly 250,000 US and UK troops in the Gulf of the unpredictability of waging war in the region.

The five-hour storm left soldiers choking in dust and kept many from sleeping.

"I don't think anyone could fight in that weather. You'd walk right past each other," Lieutenant Brian Vonkraus told the Reuters news agency.

Lieutenant Colonel Octavio Mont from the Combat Support Hospital covers his face as dust penetrates the US military grocery during a sandstorm
Soldiers wore masks even indoors to protect themselves
Such a storm during combat would make driving and flying difficult and would reduce the effectiveness of technology such as infrared sights.

Poor weather conditions led to a helicopter crash last month in which four soldiers were killed.

High winds are common in the region until summer heat sets in sometime in April.

First B-2 deployment

In further military manoeuvrings, sources told the BBC that the US has deployed four B-2 "stealth" bombers, the most advanced and expensive military aircraft in the world, overseas for the first time.

BBC Pentagon correspondent Nick Childs says the bombers have been sent to British Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, where they will be housed in specially-built shelters.

The bombers have never been deployed away from their base in the US state of Missouri before. They flew long-range missions from Whiteman Air Force base in previous combat roles.

In attacks on Afghanistan in 2001, flights began at Whiteman, bombed their targets, then went on to Diego Garcia but only to change crew to continue the flight home - a round trip of more than 70 hours.

The aircraft, which cost around $1.2bn each to build and can carry 16 satellite-guided nuclear or conventional bombs each, would be used in the first wave of any attack, as part of a US "shock and awe" air campaign.

Apart from a few missions in the early days of the attack on Afghanistan, B-2s are best known for Nato's 1999 bombing campaign in Kosovo, in which a bomb dropped from a B-2 hit the Chinese embassy, causing a major diplomatic incident.

The US says that such errors will not be repeated.

After years of flying patrol missions over Iraq, their intelligence on targets this time is much better, our correspondent says.


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