Two More USS Battle Groups Heading Home

By Jim Garamone, AFPS (Updated)

USS Abraham Lincoln (US Navy Photo)

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2003 – The USS Abraham Lincoln started it’s journey home to Everett, Washington last week after the San Diego-based 1,100-foot, nuclear-powered Nimitz carrier relieved the Lincoln of duty in Iraqi Freedom.

It will be the first homecoming for a large unit involved in the war in Operation Iraq Freedom. The Lincoln and its seven-ship battle group have been at sea nearly nine months, longer than any U.S. carrier group now on duty.

As the war in Iraq winds down, the shape and number of coalition forces in the area will change, DoD officials said during a briefing in the Pentagon.

Two carrier battle groups centered around the USS Constellation and Kitty Hawk will leave the area, Navy officials said today. This still leaves three carrier battle groups in the region: the USS Nimitz, Harry S. Truman and Theodore Roosevelt.

In addition, coalition commander Army Gen. Tommy Franks is looking at ground-based air assets, now that the need for strike aircraft has diminished, said Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice chief of operations on the Joint Staff.

McChrystal said that while land combat power is needed in Iraq, over time the mix of land forces will change. He said that as more and more of the country becomes stable, more military civil affairs specialists, engineers and military police will be needed.

But for now, coalition forces are still rooting out the remnants of the regime, most notably in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. "The regime is at its end and its leaders are either dead, surrendered or on the run," said Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke.

She said the war has been costly. Since the conflict began 118 American service members have died in the liberation of Iraq. "War is also hazardous for journalists, as we know," Clarke noted.

"At great personal risk many of them have reported the conflict firsthand. We salute these professionals and offer our condolences to their families."

A total of 10 reporters have died covering the conflict: Tareq Ayyoub, Al-Jazeera; David Bloom, NBC; José Couso, Telecinco; Kaveh Golestan, a free-lancer; Michael Kelly, Atlantic Monthly and Washington Post; Christian Liebig, Focus; Terry Lloyd, ITV News; Paul Moran, free-lancer; Julio Anguita Parrado, El Mundo; and Taras Protsyuk, Reuters.

Clarke also gave a report on progress in the eight objectives set for the war. The first was to eliminate the regime of Saddam Hussein. Most of the country is now free of the regime’s influence.

The second objective was to capture, kill or drive out terrorists and terrorist organizations sheltering in Iraq. Clarke said with the fall of Saddam, terrorists lost their largest state sponsor.

The third objective was to collect intelligence on terrorist networks. She said that as stability returns, Iraqis are coming to the coalition with information on these groups. Military intelligence personnel are also sorting through captured papers for information.

Fourth and fifth are to collect intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and to oversee their destruction. "We’ve begun the long process of exploring sites, sifting through documents and encouraging Iraqis to come forward with information," Clarke said.

Sixth is to secure Iraqi oil fields. Coalition forces secured the Southern oil fields soon after entering the country on March 19, and coalition special operations forces, supported by conventional forces, secured the northern oil fields around Tikrit last week.

The seventh goal is to end the U.N. sanctions against Iraq and begin sending humanitarian aid to the country. Clarke said President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have asked the United Nations to rescind the sanctions imposed following the 1991 Gulf War. Clarke said aid from any number of countries is beginning to flow into Iraq.

Finally, the eighth goal was to help the Iraqi people establish a representative government that does not threaten its neighbors. "We are working with clerics, tribal leaders and ordinary Iraqis," she said. "Many will meet tomorrow in An Nasiriyah to discuss the future of Iraq and the Iraqi interim authority."