Subscribe

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Signaling impatience with the Turkish government, the United States on Friday began moving warships out of the Mediterranean into the Red Sea, where they could launch long-range cruise missiles on a path to Iraq that would not go over Turkey, officials said.

Of the approximately one dozen ships to be shifted, a first group of five transited the Suez Canal on Friday, harbor officials at Egypt’s Port Said told The Associated Press. They identified the ships as the guided missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke of the Theodore Roosevelt battle group and the destroyer USS Deyo of the Harry S. Truman battle group.

Three submarines from the battle groups also traveled through the canal — the USS Boise, USS Toledo and USS San Juan, the officials said.

The flagships of the battle groups, the nuclear-powered carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Harry S. Truman, are remaining on station, however.

“The carriers are continuing to operate in the eastern Mediterranean,” a 6th Fleet spokesman, Cmdr. Bob Ross, told Stars and Stripes when reached by satellite phone aboard the 6th Fleet command ship, the USS LaSalle.

The shift in forces comes as the Turkish parliament may once again consider consider allowing both U.S. ground and air passage rights.

U.S. war planners want to position some 60,000 ground troops, as well as hundreds more aircraft, in Turkey as part of a northern campaign against Iraq. Those forces would join a wing of U.S. warplanes at Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, where it is conducting no-fly zone patrols over northern Iraq.

The Tomahawk is expected to play an important role in any attack against Iraq. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, hundreds of Tomahawk missiles were used to take out air defense sites and other key targets. The missiles have been used in virtually every major air campaign since.

Turkey has been offered a multibillion-dollar aid package in return for U.S. basing rights, but the vast majority of Turkish citizens remain staunchly opposed to any war with Iraq.

As the ships turned south, U.S. soldiers in Turkey remained in high gear, moving supplies and equipment east toward the Iraqi border. At the port city of Iskenderun on Friday morning, vehicles were being loaded aboard trains at the railhead.

A fleet of more than 30 cargo ships, bristling with the heavy metal hardware of the 4th Infantry Division, remained off the Turkish coast, officials say.

“There is no change in the status of those ships,” said Ed Baxter, spokesman for the Military Sealift Command in Europe. “There are currently no plans to move those ships south.”

But he added that “obviously the situation remains fluid.”

Hundreds of military fuel trucks, tank haulers and other logistics gear were packed inside the port yards, despite a near constant flow of convoys out of the facility over the past week.

Long convoys, including dozens of flatbed trailers with gear marked with the insignia of the 21st Theater Support Command, have been trumbling along the 400-mile road to the Iraqi border. Turkish troops and wheeled-armored vehicles guarded key points along the road, including bridges and rocky overpasses.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up