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U.S. orders 24 long-range bombers to Guam

Military officials: Aim is to send message to North Korea

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

The B-1 bomber has an intercontinental range and carries a crew of four.
The B-1 bomber has an intercontinental range and carries a crew of four.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Twenty-four bombers will begin moving from bases in the United States to Guam as part of a planned beefing up of U.S. military forces in the Pacific to send a "message" to North Korea, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The move is part of the U.S. Pacific Command's effort to maintain a robust military presence around the Korean Peninsula while forces are being built up in the Persian Gulf region. Officials say they intend to send a nonthreatening message to North Korea not to take advantage of the Iraqi situation and assume the U.S. military is distracted.

The deployment order for the bombers had long been planned and is not related to last weekend's intercept of an Air Force reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Japan by four North Korean MiG fighters, officials said.

It is not clear how soon the bombers will deploy.

Twelve B-1 bombers and 12 B-52 bombers received deployment orders Saturday. It was not immediately clear where the deployed B-1s are based, or whether the B-52s would come from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota or Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

The Pentagon issued this statement in connection with the deployment:

"As part of our global efforts to address worldwide requirements, we are deploying additional forces to the Western Pacific as U.S. forces are preparing for possible military action elsewhere in the world. These moves are not aggressive in nature. Deploying these additional forces is a prudent measure to bolster our defensive posture and as a deterrent. As the President has said, we are seeking a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of the international community's concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons program."

The United States said last month that North Korea had reactivated its five-megawatt nuclear reactor, a sign that Pyongyang might be going ahead with its nuclear weapons program.

The plant had been mothballed since 1994. But two months ago, North Korea expelled the U.N. atomic inspectors at the plant and removed U.N. seals on the equipment in preparation for reactivating the reactor.

North Korea, for its part, has never publicly acknowledged that it has a nuclear weapons program, saying only that it needs to restart its reactors because of an acute energy shortage.

The deployment was ordered a month after the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. Tom Fargo, requested additional planes and ships be sent to the region.

A number of additional Air Force fighters and other aircraft have been repositioned throughout the Pacific theatre. Pentagon sources said Fargo also proposed sending eight F-15 fighter jets to bases in Japan.

The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, based at Yokosuka, Japan, has been deployed to the Persian Gulf.

Pentagon officials have said it is "routine" to increase the number of land-based warplanes in Japan whenever the carrier based there is sent out of the region.

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