The size of the U.S. military deployment to the Persian Gulf became clearer yesterday as the Pentagon issued a stream of orders that could mobilize and deploy to the region a force of more than 200,000 troops, several hundred combat aircraft and dozens of warships by early autumn, officials said.
At the same time, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff completed a plan for a multinational naval quarantine that will be presented to President Bush this morning laying out how U.S. and Western navies can cooperate in cutting off all commerce with Iraq until it agrees to rescind its annexation of Kuwait and restore the emirate's government.
The plan for the multinational military task force sets out rules of engagement for two efforts: the first is the defensive deployment to Saudi Arabia; the second would enforce a quarantine under rules of engagement that allow U.S. warships to challenge and turn back any ships bound to or from Kuwaiti or Iraqi ports, according to an administration official.
The emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah, asked President Bush for the quarantine several days ago.
The growing size and pace of the U.S. mobilization could be seen at military bases nationwide yesterday, with Army tanks being loaded on fast cargo ships in Savannah, Ga., Marines in battle gear moving out of California bases and camouflaged attack and transport planes leaving airfields in the Carolinas for the Gulf region.
Bush told reporters traveling with him on Air Force One to his Kennebunkport, Maine, vacation compound yesterday that a growing number of Western nations have agreed to provide military assistance in the confrontation with Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Bush pointedly warned Iraq not to try to contravene the United Nations trade embargo by attempting to export its oil.
"Put it this way: I would advise Iraqi ships not to go out with oil," Bush said.
Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence officials reported yesterday that Iraqi forces have established a launch site for Silkworm anti-ship missiles in Kuwait near the coast to strengthen defenses against a possible air-sea assault. The Chinese-built missiles also could represent a formidable threat to gulf shipping.
Additional Iraqi forces continued to move into Kuwait and mobilize across the border in southern Iraq to reinforce defensive positions designed to repell possible attack, intelligence sources said.
The Pentagon's multinational naval force plan was to be presented to Bush by Secretary of State James A. Baker III and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.
The plan appeared to provide for separate commands for an Arab contingent and the forces of Western nations in the multinational ground force.
Arab leaders have made clear their willingness to participate in an Arab defense of Saudi Arabia, but Saudi King Fahd also is relying on the overarching power of the U.S. Central Command to provide the bulk of the firepower to stop an invasion by Saddam.
It remained unclear, however, whether any other nations will provide combat infantry forces for a multinational effort to defend Saudi Arabia against possible Iraqi attack.
U.S. military officials said yesterday they believe that an initial deployment of up to 5,000 Egyptian ground troops were on the way to Saudi Arabia, along with an unspecified number of Moroccan forces. The British government said its ground force contingent would be limited to an air defense role.
In an interview with The Washington Post yesterday, Saudi Ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan said that King Fahd had "invited brother and friendly" nations to join a multinational force that would "help our forces defend our country."
Bandar declined to identify which nations are sending forces but he said each government which has agreed to send forces has also agreed to withdraw forces when their mission is completed or when asked by King Fahd.
In another development, Turkey's President Turgut Ozal said in an interview that Turkey would not join the multinational force and would object to the use of its territory for staging military operations unless they were approved by NATO or the United Nations.
The initial wave of light airborne troops and fighter jets dispatched to Saudi Arabia earlier this week will now be followed by the more arduous deployment of heavy forces including the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) based at Fort Stewart, Ga., and the 101st Airborne Division (Light Infantry) based at Fort Campbell, Ky., with its large attack and transport helicopter forces.
The 24th Infantry is considered the Army's premier desert-fighting force: Its troops have undergone extensive desert training in both the United States and Middle East and its tanks and other armor are painted sand-colored camouflage.
"It's the full Central Command package," said one military official who was monitoring the deployment from NATO headquarters in Brussels. "Nobody ever thought they'd be free to commit all those forces" because it was always assumed by military planners that they would be fighting the Soviets in Europe at the same time they fought them in the Middle East. The Central Command was formed in 1983 to coordinate rapid deployment of military forces to the Middle East if needed.
"But, what's happening is they're getting the full shot," the official said.
The Military Sealift Command yesterday activated its entire fleet of eight fast sealift ships at ports along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico to participate in weapons and equipment deployments to the Middle East, military officials said.
The heavy equipment is moved across land by trucks and railroad to East Coast ports where it is loaded on Navy fast sealift ships for the two-week ocean trip to the Persian Gulf area. Yesterday, M-1 Abrams main battle tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles from Fort Stewart began rumbling across Georgia to Savannah, where they will be loaded on the fast sealift ship Capella.
F-16 attack jets based at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and C-130 transport planes from Pope Air Force Base, N.C., had started arriving in Saudi Arabia, joining F-15 fighters, paratroopers from the 82nd airborne division and airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft in the country, according to Pentagon officials.
Other military authorities said that additional F-117 "stealth" fighters based at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada were placed on alert. Military officials said earlier this week that some stealth fighters already had been deployed.
In addition, Air Force A-10 bombers have been alerted for deployment to Saudi Arabia, officials said.
The military is using commercial airlines to airlift troops, including members of the 82nd Airborne Division, to Saudi Arabia. The military has contracts with commercial airlines to provide transportation for its troops in emergencies or large-scale deployments.
Navy officials began alerting medical personnel on both the East and West coasts yesterday for duty aboard two hospital ships that are also being readied for deployment, the Comfort based at Baltimore and the Mercy at Long Beach, Calif. Medical personnel at the Bethesda Naval Hospital and the Naval Academy at Annapolis have been ordered to report for duty on the Comfort, officials said yesterday.
Members of the Air Force and Army National Guard and reserves from at least 12 states are joining the deployment to the Persian Gulf, according to state guard officials. The air guard and reserves provide much of the fighter plane and refueling capacity for the Air Force.
A State Department advisory yesterday said the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait "may raise the risk of terrorist incidents directed against American interests overseas."
The department advised embassies overseas to "take appropriate security precaution."
Staff writer Ann Devroy contributed to this report.