U.S. doubles forces in Persian Gulf region

Rumsfeld signs orders deploying 62,000

Sunday, January 12, 2003 Posted: 12:23 AM EST (0523 GMT)

 

Marines pack their gear at the port in Morehead City, N.C. as they prepare to leave for the Persian Gulf.

Marines pack their gear at the port in Morehead City, N.C. as they prepare to leave for the Persian Gulf.

 

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed deployment orders Friday to send more U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf.

The deployment of 62,000 more U.S. troops will more than double the size of the force in the region, according to The Associated Press.

Rumsfeld first ordered 35,000 troops, including two large Marine units, which marked the largest deployment order since the United States began a buildup of forces last month in case of a war against Iraq.

Only hours after officials disclosed Rumsfeld's orders, the defense secretary authorized deployment of 27,000 additional troops, the AP reports. Most of those troops are Army and Air Force combat units.

The first orders affected about 7,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, who had already been ordered aboard three ships -- the USS Saipan, the USS Ponce and the USS Gunston Hall -- which left their home port of Norfolk, Virginia, on Friday. (Full story)

Friday's orders bring the number deployed to the gulf region to around 107,000.

Sources have indicated the total number of regular, Guard and reserve forces that might eventually be deployed could be about 200,000 to 250,000.

Meanwhile, coalition warplanes already in the region Friday forcefully answered Iraqi challenges in the "no fly" zone south of Baghdad.

In the sixth coalition strike day in southern Iraq since the beginning of the new year, six U.S. and British warplanes dropped bombs on several Iraqi communications sites in what the Pentagon said were defensive strikes. Iraq does not recognize the northern and southern "no-fly" zones.

The bombings were prompted by anti-aircraft fire against coalition aircraft keeping tabs on Iraqi military capabilities as part of the long-running Operation Southern Watch, Central Command said.

The strikes came as the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency said weapons inspectors in Iraq need more intelligence information from the United States and greater cooperation from Baghdad.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was in Washington to discuss Iraq and North Korea with top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"I've told the secretary we are inching forward but not as fast as I would like to be" in Iraq, ElBaradei said after his meeting with Powell.

"Iraq has been cooperating well in the area of process, but not as much in the area of substance. We'd like to see more evidence, more documentation ... more physical evidence of the destruction of items they said they have disposed of."

ElBaradei also said he wants Baghdad to cooperate with inspectors' requests for private interviews with Iraqi scientists. Inspectors believe some scientists might have information about weapons programs that they will divulge only privately and only if their safety is assured.

The United States has said it has information proving that Iraq possesses prohibited weapons. But U.N. inspectors say they have found no "smoking gun" as they scour Iraq for weapons of mass destruction.

In other developments:

 Britain's flagship carrier, HMS Ark Royal, set sail as the military buildup in the Persian Gulf continues. The aircraft carrier will lead a flotilla to the Mediterranean Sea and eventually to military exercises in Southeast Asia. (Full Story)

 Turkey has agreed to allow the United States to survey some of its military bases and ports for possible use in case of war with Iraq, Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said Friday. The agreement, signed Friday, does not allow U.S. troops to use the bases.

CNN military correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this article.