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BAUMHOLDER, Germany — The Pentagon apparently has sent the first sizable deployment of Germany-based Air Force planes to the Middle East.

A squadron of electronic warfare fighters from Spangdahlem Air Base has deployed to an undisclosed U.S. Central Command location, according to Air Force officials. Although officials declined to say where the planes had gone, they were widely believed to have deployed to Kuwait.

F-16CJ Wild Weasels from the 22nd Fighter Squadron of the 52nd Fighter Wing left Monday “to a CENTCOM area, but that’s all the information that I have,” said Staff Sgt. Jennifer Lindsey, a Spangdahlem spokeswoman.

The deploying force includes 300 airmen, but the number of planes is classified, said Maj. Scott Vadnais, spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe at Ramstein Air Base.

Vadnais said the aircraft are being deployed in support of “the global war on terrorism,” but declined to say where the planes and personnel are going. CENTCOM officials declined comment, directing all inquiries to USAFE.

Meanwhile, the Army said Thursday that it is sending 800 engineer and intelligence specialists from Germany to the Gulf region over the next several weeks.

The soldiers are from the 130th Engineer Brigade, the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, the 22nd Signal Brigade and the 3rd Corps Support Command. The Army said they would deploy before mid-February but was not more specific.

CENTCOM, based at McDill Air Force Base, Fla., has an area of responsibility that includes 25 nations in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia.

The Air Force already has planes and airmen at both Ali Salem Air Base, about 43 miles northwest of Kuwait City, and at Ahmed al-Jaber Air Base, 47 miles west of Kuwait City.

Both are roughly 60 miles from the Kuwait-Iraq border and about 370 miles south of Baghdad, or less than a half-hour flight for a fighter plane.

There are perhaps a dozen other bases in nations around Iraq, including Shaika Isa and Rifa’a air bases in Bahrain, the new al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar and Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.

F-16CJs attack enemy air-defense systems, targeting radar, anti-aircraft and missile installations. Wild Weasels typically are configured to carry two AGM-88, or HARM, missiles that track the radiation emitted by radar, two air-to-air missiles and global positioning system-guided munitions, according to Air Force documents.

The Air Force deployment comes at the same time that Germany-based U.S. Army ground troops are getting orders to the Middle East. About 800 soldiers under Heidelberg-based V Corps were notified this week that they’ll be deploying to the CENTCOM area of responsibility — most to Kuwait — in January.

And earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had signed a deployment order to send “significant” ground forces, combat aircraft and logistics support to the Persian Gulf, senior defense officials said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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