UK's base in Indian Ocean used for strike

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The Independent Online
The B-52s which attacked Iraq took off from Guam, in the Pacific, 3,800 miles away - the third-longest air-raid in history.

They are believed to have launched their cruise missiles from over the Indian Ocean 700 miles from Iraq and refuelled in flight before returning to the Pacific. British support is thought to have consisted of allowing the planes to land and refuel at the British-owned but US-operated base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The only longer raids, both more than 4,000 miles, involved RAF Vulcans flying from Britain to attack Port Stanley airport during the Falklands conflict in 1982 and B-52s flying from Louisiana to attack Iraqi forces during the Gulf war in 1991.

In the latest attack, two US ships in the Gulf also launched missiles, at $1.2m (pounds 800,000) a shot, at Iraqi targets. The US said 27 cruise missiles were fired in all, 14 by aircraft, the rest by ships. Experts said the missiles were used rather than manned aircraft for two reasons: firstly, to minimise the risk of US casualties, which could embarrass President Bill Clinton in an election year; secondly, because Turkey and Saudi Arabia were loath to allow US planes to fly from bases on their soil.

Use of B-52s from Guam was probably intended to conserve ship-based cruise missiles in the Gulf for more possible raids, the experts said.

The B-52 bomber used in the attack on Iraq traces its history back to the early 1950s, when the US needed a long-range aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union.

Since 1982 the B-52, used to drop conventional weapons during the Vietnam war, has been able to carry air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). The conventional ALCMs launched by the two B-52Hs in the Iraqi attack have a 750-mile range, enabling the planes to "stand off" from enemy territory and possible anti-aircraft fire. They have a 2,000-lb warhead.