Two U.S. carriers now in Persian Gulf
By Jamie McIntyre
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pentagon sources confirmed Wednesday that a second U.S. aircraft carrier has arrived in the Persian Gulf in what Navy officials describe as a routine rotation.
The second U.S. aircraft carrier doubles, at least briefly, the available sea-based firepower at a time when the Pentagon is contemplating airstrikes against Iraq's air defenses.
Sources told CNN the USS Enterprise arrived in the southern Gulf on Wednesday and will soon join the USS Constellation, which is about to end its scheduled tour of duty.
The rotation of the two carriers is expected to take about a week, according to Navy officials. The USS Enterprise will be joined by its slower escort ships within a few days, sources said.
Meanwhile, senior Bush administration officials met at the White House Wednesday to discuss Iraq policy, and sources told CNN the United State is making plans for to respond to Iraq's stepped-up campaign to shoot down a U.S. or British plane enforcing the no-fly zones.
Iraq appears to be bracing for an attack. Over the past week it dispersed some missiles, radars and aircraft into a more defensive posture, according to Pentagon sources.
That includes moving some radars near Baghdad above the 33rd parallel, outside the southern no-fly zone where the U.S. bombs with some frequency.
Pentagon officials would not confirm details of the planning, including the scale or timing of an attack.
"We reserve the right to strike targets at a time and a place in a manner of our choosing," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said Tuesday.
The last time the United States attacked above the 33rd parallel was on February 16, 2001, when more than 60 U.S. and British planes, including two-dozen strike aircraft, attacked five targets that included more than 20 radars.
Quigley said Tuesday that President Saddam Hussein "is trying his darndest to bring down a coalition aircraft."
He said in the southern no-fly zone there have been 370 "provocations" by Iraqi gunners so far this year, compared to only 211 in 2000.
The Pentagon defines a "provocation" as an incident in which Iraqi air defenses fires artillery or missiles at coalition planes, or targets them with hostile radar.
In the northern no-fly zone there have been 62 "provocations" so far this year, compared to 145 in 2000.
There have been no U.S. bombing raids on Iraq since July 17, when U.S. planes hit an anti-aircraft site in southern Iraq.
President Bush was at the Pentagon for a briefing Wednesday, but senior Pentagon officials said the topic was nuclear force levels, not Iraq.
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