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HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Mar. 7) - Several more long-range bombers landed at Andersen Air Force Base yesterday and more are scheduled to arrive, until about 24 of the planes are on island.

The first group of B-1B Lancers and B-52 Stratofortress bombers deployed to Guam landed Wednesday in Yigo, as a show of U.S. military might in the Western Pacific region.

According to the spokesman for the Air Force's 7th Air Expeditionary Wing, the bombers are here solely as a precautionary measure. The spokesman, an Air Force lieutenant from Yokota Air Base in Japan, could not divulge his name citing security reasons.

"(The deployment) is a completely defensive action. It is not an aggressive action at all," he said.

"We're not going to speculate on where they are going to be utilized. They are here in this area because Guam is a very valuable location in the Pacific Region -- obviously, it's 14 hours closer to the Middle East, it's 14 hours closer to North Korea, it's 14 hours closer to anywhere that they might have to operate in Asia and the Pacific."

The United States has been dealing with growing tensions with North Korea while building up its forces in the Persian Gulf, preparing for a potential war with Iraq. Nearly 300,000 troops have been positioned in countries and areas around Iraq, according to the Associated Press.

The 7th Air Expeditionary Wing spokesman would not verify how many bombers are on island or how many will be arriving in the coming days.

Media yesterday afternoon were allowed on the base in time to view two B-1 bombers landing. Another B-1 and four B-52 bombers were parked on the sides of the runway.

The 7th Air Expeditionary Wing spokesman also said he could not confirm if fighter planes or any additional bombers would be deployed to Guam. He could not say how many additional military personnel will come to Guam along with the bombers, but confirmed that flight crews, mechanics, maintenance crews and other specialists have arrived or will arrive.

"They are going to stay as long as it's prudent to keep them in the region. There's no end time as far as how long the bombers are supposed to be here," the spokesman said.

The bombers' arrival is another sign of the ongoing military buildup on Guam in recent years.

Gen. William J. Begert, commander of Pacific Air Forces, on Tuesday talked to Guam Chamber of Commerce members about military construction projects on Guam. He also mentioned the North Korean situation and the important role Guam plays in this region.

Begert said since he became commander of Pacific Air Forces, he has consistently advocated for an increased Air Force presence on island, including what he called "some kind of permanent bomber presence on Guam.''

Last year, two fast-attack submarines made Guam their home port and military officials have confirmed Guam is scheduled to be the home port for a third fast-attack submarine this year.

The current dispute with North Korea flared in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea had admitted to pursuing a nuclear program in violation of 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.

March 7, 2003

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com 

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