Carrier group departs for Arabian Sea
By Marsha Walton
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis left San Diego Monday, heading toward the Arabian Sea as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Stennis battle group includes 10 U.S. and Canadian ships and submarines, plus more than 80 tactical aircraft and a total of 8,500 sailors and Marines. The group left from its port in San Diego, California, about a month and a half earlier than originally scheduled.
The battle group will arrive for duty after about six weeks of travel time, Pentagon officials said.
The Stennis will join three aircraft carrier groups already on station near the coast of Pakistan to conduct air operations against targets in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials said.
The aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson, USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Kitty Hawk are now in the Arabian Sea, launching strike aircraft daily against Taliban and al Qaeda targets.
The addition of the Stennis will give U.S. Central Commander Gen. Tommy Franks more than 150 Navy strike aircraft to use against positions inside Afghanistan.
Those planes are in addition to a variety of Air Force planes including B-52s, B-1s, AC-130 gunships and other special purpose aircraft.
The Stennis, Vinson and Roosevelt each carry some 50 strike planes plus about 25 other aircraft such as airborne battle management planes, refueling planes and search and rescue helicopters.
The Stennis is to replace the Vinson, officials said.
Along with the aircraft carrier Stennis, the ships and submarines in the battle group include:
Two guided missile cruisers: USS Lake Champlain (homeport San Diego) and USS Port Royal (homeport
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii)
Guided missile destroyer: USS Decatur (San Diego)
Destroyer: USS Elliot (San Diego)
Guided missile frigate: USS Jarrett (San Diego)
Supply ship: USS Bridge (Bremerton, Washington)
Submarines: USS Jefferson City (San Diego) and the USS Salt Lake City (San Diego)
Halifax class frigate: HMCS Vancouver, (Vancouver, British Columbia)
-- CNN National Security Producer Chris Plante contributed to this report
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