B-2 Stealth bombers were headed Thursday to bases closer to Iraq, and a high-ranking Democratic congressman called it a sign that war was at hand.

An undisclosed number of the radar-evading planes left Wednesday evening from Whiteman Air Force Base, where all 21 are stationed, said base spokeswoman 2nd Lt. Kat Ohlmeyer. Not all the planes were deployed, she said.

In Washington, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri said the repositioning tells him that military action against Saddam Hussein will start soon.

"I'm convinced it's going to happen," said Skelton, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, whose Missouri district includes Whiteman.

The planes were flying to Fairfield Royal Air Force Base in England and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, a British protectorate. About 200 technicians and mechanics left Missouri last week for those destinations.

Diego Garcia was a stopover point for B-2s returning from the initial wave of bombing in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Whiteman Air Force Base is about 60 miles southeast of Kansas City, Mo.