Navy fighter jets, ships standing by in Mediterranean
March 21, 2003
More than 100 Navy strike fighters and support jets aboard two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea were sidelined during the opening salvo against Iraq, although officials are hopeful they’ll be in the fight soon.
Turkey’s parliament agreed Thursday to allow the U.S. military to use Turkish airspace for a war in Iraq, the Anatolia news agency reported. The decision was especially important now that coalition troops are striking Iraq.
The government-backed proposal would allow American warplanes based in Europe or the United States to cross Turkey to strike Iraq. The United States also could use Turkish airspace to transport troops into northern Iraq or to bring supplies to the region.
Turkey and the United States will now have to work out the details of using the airspace, officials said. That agreement could take as little as a few hours.
In the meantime, the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Harry S. Truman are continuing to stand by in the eastern Mediterranean, said Cmdr. Bob Ross, spokesman for the Navy’s 6th Fleet.
“They are prepared to execute their mission when they are given one,” Ross said.
Most of escort ships assigned to the two big decks — all Tomahawk cruise missile-launching cruisers, destroyers and submarines — were moved into the Red Sea last week in preparation for Thursday’s assault.
Four cruise missile launchers, however, have remained in the Mediterranean. Ross said they are:
guided missile destroyer USS Mitscherguided missile destroyer USS Winston Churchillguided missile cruiser USS Anzioguided missile cruiser USS Cape St. GeorgeAlthough the United States has secured permission to launch air attacks through Jordan, officials are concerned about stirring additional Arab-Israeli tensions by flying across Israel to reach the Jordanian air corridors.
“It’s not the most preferred option,” said a senior Navy officer at the Pentagon.