Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed two major deployment orders over the past 48 hours to send 62,000 more Marines, Army soldiers and Air Force personnel to the Persian Gulf region, where there are already about 60,000 U.S. military personnel at bases in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain.
With 7,000-member amphibious task forces from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C., preparing to ship out, the Pentagon's plan for assembling as many as 250,000 troops in the region continued without pause even as key U.S. allies have signaled that they want to put the brakes on planning for a possible war with Iraq.
Four amphibious assault ships used to transport Marines -- the Bataan, Ashland, Portland and Kearsarge -- also received deployment orders yesterday and were preparing to set sail from Norfolk within days. Three other ships used for transporting Marines, the Saipan, the Gunston Hall and the Ponce, set sail from Norfolk on Friday.
"We never discuss specific deployments, but large amounts of forces are flowing and continue to flow to the front lines, should the president decide to use them," Jim Wilkinson, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, said yesterday.
The deployment orders signed by Rumsfeld since Friday come on top of a Christmas Eve order that sent about 25,000 troops to the gulf region, including 11,000 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart, Ga. The division has one brigade of 4,000 soldiers in Kuwait, making it the first full division, equipped with M-1 Abrams tanks and M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, to deploy.
With the 62,000 troops deployed since Friday and the 60,000 already in theater, the buildup has now reached almost 150,000, a force that should be in place from late January to mid-February. A force that size would be large enough to begin an invasion under the Pentagon's plan for a "rolling start," with additional troops added if necessary.
"Some will go this week; some will go the week after; some will go three weeks from now and some will go four weeks from now," said one senior defense official. "There could be more."
The first order signed by Rumsfeld on Friday called for 35,000 troops. About half came from the Marines, and the rest, primarily from the Army. A second order Rumsfeld signed overnight called for 27,000 additional troops, mainly from the Army and the Air Force, which will play the leading role in an intensive air campaign that could involve as many as 500 combat aircraft from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
The Air Force has already deployed B-2, B-1 and B-52 bombers, F-15 and F-16 fighters and an array of transport, tanker and radar aircraft.
The ground force deployed thus far, combined Marine amphibious task forces with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, is a mix of light and heavy forces. The Pentagon's ultimate invasion force is expected to include two or three other heavy Army divisions, most likely the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Tex., the 1st Armored Division, based in Wiesbaden, Germany, and possibly parts of the 1st Infantry Division, also based in Germany. The 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., the Army's only air assault division, is also expected to be deployed.
Commanders from the 1st Armored, 1st Infantry, 101st Airborne and 1st Cavalry are all expected to participate in a computer-simulated war game exercise in Germany later this month called "Victory Scrimmage."
Forward command posts have been established in Kuwait by the Army's Fifth Corps, which commands the 1st Armored and 1st Infantry Divisions, and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The Central Command, which established a forward headquarters in Qatar during an exercise in December, sent 1,000 officers from its Tampa headquarters back to Qatar last week with orders to make the forward headquarters fully operational by month's end.
Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who heads the Central Command, would direct a military campaign against Iraq from Qatar. One of his two deputies, Army Lt. Gen. John P. Abizaid, is in the region and will be permanently based there by the end of January.
The Navy, meanwhile, already has two aircraft carriers deployed, with the USS Constellation in the Persian Gulf and the Harry S. Truman in the Mediterranean. With aircraft carriers on the East and West coasts on 96-hour alert status, the Navy could have four carriers in theater within weeks. Each carrier has about 40 strike aircraft, all of which are now equipped to drop precision-guided munitions. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, virtually no Navy aircraft had precision capabilities.
If necessary, the Navy even has plans for deploying six aircraft carriers to the gulf, most likely basing three in the Red Sea and three in the Persian Gulf so that aircraft could strike Iraq from two directions.
Three transport ships from the U.S. Sealift Command, meanwhile, are to set sail from Newport News on Monday. Two, the USNS Mendonca and Gilliland, each capable of carrying 300,000 square feet of cargo, will sail to Savannah, Ga., where they will pick up equipment from the 3rd Infantry Division. It will be the first major movement of armored vehicles and helicopters from the United States to the gulf.
The third ship, the Seay, will sail to Beaumont, Tex., where it will pick up Patriot missile batteries and other equipment from Fort Bliss and Fort Hood.
Meanwhile, the Marines have ordered offload preparation parties to "maritime pre-position ships" loaded with Marine equipment in the Mediterranean and at the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The ships contain enough equipment to support 34,000 Marines for as many as 30 days.