Subject: U.S. Marines Practise Landings Off Timor

U.S. marines practise landings off Timor

DILI, East Timor, Sept 16 (Reuters) - More than 3,000 U.S. marines and sailors rehearsed helicopter and ship-to-shore landings off East Timor on Sunday amid expectations of a revenge strike over the terror attacks on New York and Washington.

The taskforce from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron One had been due to disembark troops for humanitarian work in Dili, the southwest town of Suai and the Oecussi enclave in Indonesian West Timor.

Instead, three amphibious ships led by the 40,000-tonne USS Peleliu stayed off the north coast of the capital practising naval and air manoeuvres with Harrier jets, helicopters and landing craft.

Before two passenger jets slammed into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Centre and a third into the Pentagon in Washington, the warships were on a routine six month deployment to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf.

U.S. army spokesman Major Paul van Breemen told Reuters in Dili the taskforce was due to sail for the Oecussi enclave on Monday to deliver humanitarian supplies before heading to Singapore.

"After that, I am not really sure where they will go. They are part of a much bigger force," he said.

The Peleliu is a multipurpose amphibious assault ship carrying six AV-8 Harrier jets designed to provide close air support for marine amphibious landings.

Other aircraft onboard include Cobra helicopter gunships, CH-53 heavy lift helicopters and twin rotor Sea Knight helicopters.

On Saturday morning, Dili residents woke to the roar of jet engines as the Harriers practised take offs and landings. By Saturday evening the open Well Deck of the Peleliu could be clearly seen from Dili, its interior lit by an eerie orange glow.

Curious East Timorese, some with binoculars, gathered on the beach to watch the manoeuvres. In the distance, huge plumes of spray could be seen from 41-metre surface assault craft carried by the Peleliu.

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