Washington The Pentagon rolled out workhorse B-52 bombers and activated an additional 5,172 National Guard and reserve troops Saturday in preparation for the first military strikes in the new U.S. campaign against terrorism.
Military officials declined to comment on reports that Taliban forces shot down an unmanned spy plane in northern Afghanistan on Saturday. But they welcomed word that Turkey would join the ranks of nations that will help U.S. armed forces in the fight against prime suspect Osama bin Laden. He is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan.
"We appreciate all the support we're enjoying in the region and around the world," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan G. Whitman.
Air Force B-52 bombers capable of dropping or firing long-range cruise missiles and an array of other weapons were en route to an undisclosed location after leaving overnight from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
The callup Saturday raises to 10,303 the total of Air National Guard Air Force Reserve troops called to active duty since Thursday. Among the latest callups are units to provide air refueling and joint communications.
Lt. Gen. Charles Wald, commander of U.S. Central Command's air component, early in the week shifted operations to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, where he could plan and direct air attacks against bin Laden, Afghan supporters and other possible targets in the region, officials said.
The United States has "a command and control center with Saudi Arabia. It's up and running and it's operational," a senior U.S. official said Saturday.
The Air Force is sending 100 to 130 aircraft to the Gulf region _ the B-52s as well as B-1s and fighters, officials have said. Tanker aircraft for refueling the fighters and bombers as they cross the Atlantic had already left U.S. bases to position themselves as an "air bridge" Thursday.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan's ruling Taliban said its fighters shot down an unmanned reconnaissance plane Saturday in northern Afghanistan and were trying to determine what country launched it.
The plane was reported downed in an area where Taliban opposition reported heavy fighting with forces of the hardline Islamic leadership.
Pentagon officials refused to say whether the plane was American, one adding that they were happy to keep the Taliban guessing.
Turkey will allow Air Force transport aircraft to use its airspace and airports for a possible retaliation to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said in a letter to Bush.
Turkey, base for the U.S. and British "no-fly" zone flights over Iraq, is also willing to share intelligence on Afghanistan with the United States.
On Friday in Japan, the USS Kitty Hawk, the only U.S. aircraft carrier stationed in the western Pacific, left its port in Yokosuka for an undisclosed location. Two carriers are already in the Persian Gulf or Indian Ocean, and a third, the Theodore Roosevelt, left Norfolk, Va., during the week for the Mediterranean Sea and possibly points east.
It is widely expected that a U.S. campaign against the terrorists would be led by special operations forces such as helicopter-borne Army Rangers. Planned, as well, are nonmilitary moves such as financial steps to dry up bin Laden's resources and law enforcement efforts against his accomplices.