Military forces on both sides of the border between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait continued to grow yesterday as more Iraqi troops moved into Kuwait and U.S. Marine assault units and Army anti-aircraft batteries deployed to Saudi Arabia, according to Pentagon officials.
The U.S. Army is sending to Saudi Arabia powerful surface-to-air missiles that could be used in the event of an attack by Iraqi air forces. They include Patriot missiles with ranges of more than
65 miles, short-range Chaparral missiles, Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems and shoulder-fired Stinger missiles, officials said.
As Marines from three southern California bases were flown to Saudi Arabia, tons of weapons and equipment were loaded on trucks and trains for the overland trip to ports on the East Coast for shipment to the Middle East, officials said.
The Army's 101st Airborne (Assault) Division based at Fort Campbell, Ky., along with dozens of its attack and transport heli- copters, continued air deployments to the region, military officials said.
Although military officials have said privately that the number of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia could swell to 200,000 or more in coming weeks, the Defense Department officially has refused to discuss total numbers.
Military authorities said that because Iraqi forces could surge over the Saudi border on short notice, they are hesitant to reveal the size of the planned deployment because Iraq might be encouraged to launch an attack before the full U.S. force arrives.
U.S. intelligence reports show that Iraq President Saddam Hussein has assembled seven full army divisions and parts of four more inside Kuwait and just across the border in Iraq.
Officials said Iraq likely will complete mobilization of those four divisions in coming days, bringing the number of Iraqi troops in Kuwait and the nearby region to more than 200,000.
"They continue the buildup," one official said. "Their posture is still defensive, but the fact remains, they can make changes relatively quickly . . . within a matter of hours."
Italian Defense Minister Virginio Rognoni said yesterday that Iraq is massing chemical weapons at southern air bases in Iraq and that Iraqi troops have been deploying near the Turkish border as well.
U.S. intelligence sources also were tracking a ship they believe is loaded with arms en route to Iraq, according to officials.
Officials did not disclose where the ship was loaded. Some Pentagon sources said they were concerned that the multinational plan for enforcing the U.N. trade embargo against Iran might not be completed in time to intercept the arms shipment.
Air, land and sea elements of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, and Twentynine Palms and El Toro Marine Corps bases have been dispatched to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon confirmed.
A full expeditionary force can include up to 60,000 Marines.
In addition, elements of the Army's 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, with its Patriot surface-to-air missiles, are also being deployed to Saudi Arabia, according to military authorities. The brigade is based at Fort Bliss, Tex.
The Patriot, computer-guided missiles -- designed to counter the sophisticated electronic countermeasures of the Soviet air forces -- can track and destroy several targets simultaneously. Iraqi air force capability has been described as "third-rate" by American military officials.
The 101st Airborne Division is equipped with hundreds of helicopters that can be used for rapid movements on the battlefield, ranging from the heavily armed AH-64 Apache attack helicopter to the UH-60 Blackhawk transport craft.