WASHINGTON - A second U.S. Navy aircraft carrier departed the Persian Gulf on Thursday, leaving only the USS Nimitz battle group on station in the Gulf, defense officials.
With the air campaign winding down, both the Navy and the Air Force are bringing aircraft home to allow pilots and crews a respite after one of the most intense air campaigns in history.
The USS Constellation, on its final overseas mission before going into retirement, left the Gulf Thursday, one day after the carrier USS Kitty Hawk departed for its homeport in Yokosuka, Japan, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Two other carriers that participated in the air war from positions in the eastern Mediterranean - the USS Harry S. Truman and the USS Theodore Roosevelt - are going to alternate on port visits in the Mediterranean in coming days but not head home yet, the officials said.
The war's commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, briefed President Bush from inside one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad Wednesday. In visible disgust at the opulence, Franks said, "It's the oil for palace program" - a biting reference to the U.N. oil-for-food effort.
At the Pentagon, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said Franks probably would move some sort of military headquarters operation into Iraq soon.
"Whether it will be located in Baghdad proper, I can't say," McChrystal, vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. "But at some point, I think as he transitions to the next phase, he would probably recommend and stand up that kind of headquarters and put it right within Iraq."
The head of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, also is expected to move his headquarters into Iraq from Kuwait soon. Garner held a meeting Tuesday in the ancient city of Ur to bring together about 80 representatives of various groups within Iraq to begin discussions about a post-Saddam government.
In northern Iraq, a confrontation under murky circumstances around a bank in the city of Mosul Wednesday left three Iraqis dead. Some Iraqis charged they were innocent victims shot down when local police tried to drive away looters. U.S. military officials said they had no clear information about the incident.
In Washington, the Pentagon's top budget officer said Wednesday the Iraq war has cost at least $20 billion and probably will consume that much or more in the remaining five months of the federal budget year that ends Sept. 30.
An additional $5 billion to $7 billion will be needed to pay for getting U.S. troops from the Persian Gulf region to their home bases, officials said. That process is just now beginning.
Those totals do not include the yet-to-be-calculated sums for postwar reconstruction of Iraq, the Defense Department's comptroller said at a news conference. The United States is counting on contributions from other countries to pay part of the rebuilding cost.
Dov Zakheim said military operations in Iraq to date have cost about $10 billion to $12 billion. Personnel costs have been about $6 billion and the cost of munitions has been more than $3 billion. The figures include what it cost to move 250,000 troops to the Persian Gulf area.
In human costs, the Pentagon said Thursday the war's official death rose by one to 126. It did not immediately have information about the latest death. On Wednesday the Pentagon identified the remains of Marine Cpl. Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse, 22, of Waterford, Conn., who was killed in a March 23 firefight near Nasiriyah, Iraq. He had previously been listed as missing in action. There are now three Americans listed as missing.