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HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Mar. 6) - The Pentagon has ordered the deployment of 24 bombers to Guam amid increasing tension in the Korean Peninsula.

The deployment order was made Friday, but military officials are not saying when the 12 B-1 and 12 B-52 bombers will arrive here.

"We are deploying additional forces to the Western Pacific as U.S. forces are preparing for possible military action elsewhere in the world," said Lt. Kim Melchor, Andersen Air Force Base spokeswoman. "These moves are not aggressive in nature. It's a prudent measure to bolster our defense posture."

Lt. David Faggard with the Pacific Air Force headquarters' public affairs office in Hawaii said the deployment is "purely a deterrent measure for any type of conflict that can arise in the Pacific region," and designed "to show countries throughout the region that we don't have all our eggs in one basket."

The United States has been dealing with the North Korea standoff while building up its forces in the Persian Gulf, preparing for a possible war against Iraq.

Nearly 300,000 troops have been positioned in countries and areas around Iraq, according to The Associated Press.

The deployment reinforces the strategic importance of Guam to the U.S. military. Guam is about 2,000 miles from North Korea.

The current dispute with the reclusive communist state flared in October when U.S. officials said North Korea had admitted to pursuing a nuclear program, which violated a 1994 pact.

The standoff has since escalated with a series of incidents that has raised concern in the region.

North Korea has reactivated a 5-megawatt reactor that could produce plutonium for nuclear weapons within months, U.S. officials have said.

Last week, North Korea test-fired a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan.

This weekend, four North Korean fighter jets intercepted an American surveillance flight and shadowed it for 20 minutes over the Sea of Japan. The fighter jets came as close as 50 feet to the U.S. Air Force plane, which was flying 150 miles off the Korean coast.

U.S. officials continue to push for a diplomatic solution to the North Korean standoff.

The order to send the bombers to Guam was made about a day before the confrontation with the North Korean fighter jets.

As a matter of policy, Melchor and Faggard said, they could not provide additional, specific information on the bombers.

This is not the first time bombers have been deployed to Guam. B-52 bombers were stationed here throughout the Cold War and the Vietnam War and into the early 1990s, according to Pacific Daily News files.

The B-1 is the backbone of America's long-range bomber force, while the B-52 is a long-range, heavy bomber capable of flying at high speeds and at altitudes up to 50,000 feet, the Air Force Web site said.

March 6, 2003

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