WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk was believed to be steaming toward Southwest Asia Tuesday as the United States continues deployments and mobilizations in anticipation of military strikes against Afghanistan-based Osama bin Laden and his suspected terrorist network.
The Kitty Hawk, which normally carries more than 70 combat aircraft, left Yokosuka, Japan, "to support Operation Enduring Freedom," a Pentagon spokesman said.
Information on its actual destination was not disclosed, in keeping with a strict security clampdown on troop and asset movements.
Deployment of the Kitty Hawk would put four U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf, Arabian Sea and nearby areas within quick sailing or strike distance from Afghanistan, where the extremist Taliban regime has given bin Laden sanctuary.
The carriers, each at the center of a battle group, are accompanied by about 15 support ships, including missile carrying cruisers and destroyers.
Bin Laden and his al Qaida group are the top suspects in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon and an airplane crash in Pensylvania, which are feared to have killed more than 6,000 people.
The Taliban refuses to hand over bin Laden and dismantle his training camps as demanded by Washington, instead saying it wants proof of bin Laden's involvement in the atrocities and negotiations.
President Bush has ruled out negotiations.
"This is not a police activity," Army Secretary Thomas E. White said last month. "This is war."
Added Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "We are moving forces worldwide to respond to the president's campaign against terror."
At least 100 aircraft are also believed to have been deployed, including F-15E fighters, B-1 bombers, B-52 bombers, AWACS air control planes and JSTAR ground surveillance planes.
Several Navy Amphibious Battle Groups, featuring Marines and helicopter-carrying ships, are also said to have been deployed.
Reports indicate B-52s from bases in Louisiana and North and South Dakota have also taken to wing. During the Kosovo campaign against Yugoslav forces, they were relocated from their U.S. homes to Britain and the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
U.S. Special Operations units also are believed to have been on the move. Unconfirmed reports have put special forces groups already on the ground in Afghanistan, performing reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering operations.
Normally, the United States has about 200 planes in the region enforcing the no-fly zones over northern Iraq (from Turkey) and southern Iraq (from Gulf countries and ships). About 5,200 troops are based in Saudi Arabia; 4,800 in Kuwait; and about 1,000 in Bahrain, not counting sailors and Marines aboard ship.
Meanwhile, thousands of military reservists -- especially in communications specialties and in aircraft support, maintenance and logistics -- have been activated.
National Guard forces, at the request of President Bush, have been placed at some domestic airports to bolster security operations.