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The last of about a dozen Air Force B-52 bombers from the United States arrived Tuesday at RAF Fairford, England, a deployment that signifies yet another step on the path to war with Iraq.

“Their arrival suggests there is an imminence of war,” said Andy Newman, a resident of nearby Swindon and a war opponent.

According to British media reports, the United States was planning to dispatch 14 of its long-range, high-altitude bombers to RAF Fairford, a NATO contingency base about 35 miles north of Oxford. That figure was confirmed Tuesday afternoon by a spokesperson for the British Ministry of Defense.

“We are expecting 14, in total, by the end of the day,” said the spokesperson. According to ministry policy, spokespersons are not identified.

A U.S. Air Force spokesman at the base couldn’t discuss specifics, due to security and operational concerns, but he did say about a dozen of the aircraft, nicknamed the Stratofortress, have arrived from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., over the last two days.

“We currently have about 300 people here at Fairford,” said 1st Lt. Ed Ekpoudom, the spokesman, who has been in England for a couple of weeks. “These people are here to support contingency operations for the global war on terrorism, as directed by the president.”

The arrival of the planes — as symbolic as it is significant — has brought out hundreds of protesters, according to British media.

“We’re quite upset about it,” said Newman, a member of the Stop the War Coalition. “Support for the war is very low here.”

Newman said a local newspaper polled readers last month to gauge residents’ support for the war. The poll found that 88 percent of respondents are opposed to war with Iraq at this time.

The U.S. contingent sent to Fairford includes personnel from the security, services, maintenance and communication fields, Ekpoudom said.

Personnel were last sent to Fairford in 1999 in support of Operation Allied Force, the U.S.-led mission to end the ethnic strife in Kosovo. Fairford also was used during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

“We’re a forward operating location,” Ekpoudom said, “we maintain combat ready resources to support United States and NATO contingencies and exercises.”

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