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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

Pentagon Orders Thousands More Troops to Persian Gulf

February 16, 2003|Esther Schrader | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has ordered thousands more Army troops to the Persian Gulf as part of an increasingly intense buildup in the region in preparation for a potential war with Iraq, military officials said Saturday.

The 5,000-member 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Ft. Carson, Colo., was told Friday to deploy to Kuwait within several weeks, a regiment official said.

The deployment of the regiment, a mobile mechanized unit designed to conduct reconnaissance, security and attack operations, is part of an order signed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last week dispatching about 20,000 more soldiers to the gulf region.

The latest deployment orders will bring the number of U.S. forces in and around the gulf to more than 160,000, and the tally is expected to exceed 200,000 by month's end, Pentagon officials said.

"You'll see significant movements of troops to the region in the next two weeks and into early March," said one military official familiar with the war preparations who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We've been moving stuff for a while now, but a lot of those people had been on ships. Now with the movement of ground troops, we're getting close to having the kind of power over there we need to really do something."

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who as chief of Central Command oversees all U.S. forces in the gulf region, is expected to go to the command's new mobile headquarters in Qatar before the end of the month. He was in Washington for three days last week meeting with President Bush and Rumsfeld at the White House.

At the meetings, he showed Bush a set of briefings that included intelligence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is preparing to blow up oil fields and dams in southern Iraq to slow any U.S. advance, a senior military official familiar with the briefings said.

The official said the briefings also included the latest U.S. war plan, which would need Bush's approval before an invasion could start.

"You can rest assured that this plan will have more elements of surprise than any war plan in military history," the official said. "The Iraqis are never gonna know what hit them."

Ordered to deploy to the region are two 7,000-member Marine amphibious task forces, the Army's 3rd and 4th infantry divisions, mechanized units equipped with hundreds of M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, and the more than 15,000 soldiers of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, headquartered at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

As the buildup continued, U.S. warplanes bombed two antiaircraft missile sites near Basra early Saturday, Central Command said.

The strike on two mobile, surface-to-air missile sites was the fourth in the Basra area in a week by U.S. planes patrolling a "no-fly" zone over southern Iraq. Basra, the country's second-largest city, is about 275 miles southeast of Baghdad and only about 25 miles from the border with Kuwait.

The U.S. military has been increasingly aggressive in recent months in bombing Iraqi surface-to-air missile sites.

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