Another 7,000 U.S. Marines to Head for Gulf
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will soon send 7,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to the Gulf to join a major U.S. military build-up in the region for possible war with Iraq, the Marine Corps said on Friday.
Marine officials said a final deployment order had not been received, but that the troops, tanks, warplanes and helicopters from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Lejeune were told to prepare to begin moving within days.
"It is an authorization to embark aboard Navy ships. There is no deployment order as yet," said Lt. Kate VandenBossche, a Marine spokeswoman at Camp Lejeune.
The United States has this month already begun sending more than 12,000 armored and infantry troops from the state of Georgia and from Germany and thousands of Marines from California to the Gulf to join some 60,000 U.S. troops now there. Another 10,000 Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers have been put in alert for rapid mobilization.
In Miami, a spokesman for the Florida National Guard said more than 1,200 soldiers in one of the guard's combat units had been called to active duty and another 600 put on alert for mobilization.
BIGGEST CALL-UP SINCE SECOND WORLD WAR
It was the biggest call-up of Florida National Guard units since World War II.
The fresh Marine troops and arms would come from the 2nd "MEF" at Camp Pendleton and include support elements from Marine Corps air stations at Cherry Point and New River, North Carolina.
The new year's surge in forces is expected to more than double the 60,000 troops that the United States now has in the Gulf region before the end of February.
President Bush says he has made no decision on whether to invade Iraq over U.S. charges that Baghdad is developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. But he has repeatedly warned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that such a move may be necessary despite denials from Baghdad that it is developing those weapons.
The Marine Corps announcement came a day after Chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix said at the United Nations that his teams had not found "any smoking guns" in Iraq during their recent search for weapons of mass destruction. But he reaffirmed that Baghdad's 12,000-page arms declaration on Dec. 7 "failed to answer a great many questions."
The ground forces ordered to deploy so far are far short of the more than 250,000 U.S. troops sent to the region for the Gulf War. While any invasion of Iraq would be likely to include initially far fewer than a quarter-million American troops, the current shift could grow more rapidly in January and February.
EQUIPMENT FROM GERMANY
In Vilseck, Germany, on Thursday, the U.S. Army began sending long lines of heavy tractors, bulldozers, cranes, trucks and other engineering equipment to the Gulf from its Grafenwoehr training ground. They were loaded onto 250 flatbed railcars and will be taken by ship to the Gulf, where they will arrive in about two weeks.
Since the new year began, the Army has begun to deploy more than 11,000 soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division from Ft. Benning and Ft. Stewart, Georgia, along with their heavy tanks and attack helicopters. U.S. engineers, intelligence specialists and military police are flowing from Germany.
The Marine Corps is also deploying troops from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, California and the Army has put 10,000 part-time Army Reserve and National Guard troops on alert to go.
The Navy has signaled it is preparing to move at least two additional aircraft carrier battle groups with 150 warplanes and dozens of ship-launched cruise missiles to the region.
The Navy hospital ship Comfort sailed out of the port of Baltimore, Maryland, on Monday for the Gulf region to prepare to handle casualties in any invasion of Iraq ordered by Bush.