Combat air patrols over the nation’s capital, which were increased for several weeks after the start of the war against Iraq, have been scaled back, officials said Thursday.
Intelligence reports had indicated terrorist attacks would be more likely once the war began, and in response the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which is responsible for defending U.S. airspace, ordered continuous patrols over Washington, the officials said, on condition of anonymity.
With the Saddam Hussein regime toppled, the air patrols have been eased, although fighter aircraft are still flying periodic patrols around the country and other fighters are on short-notice ground alert.
Without explicitly saying that air patrols had been eased, the Air Force on Thursday announced that pilots and maintenance experts from the 388th Fighter Wing returned to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on Wednesday and Thursday.
A spokesman for the 388th, 2nd Lt. Vernon Thompson, said 13 F-16s that returned to Hill on Wednesday had been based at an undisclosed location on the East Coast to provide continuous air coverage over Washington for about six weeks.