Military Forces Ordered to Gulf
U.S. Beginning Final Buildup To Face Iraq
By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post - Saturday, December 28, 2002; Page A01
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has signed a deployment order to send "significant" ground forces, combat aircraft and logistics support to the Persian Gulf, a move that marks the beginning of a final buildup for a possible war against Iraq, senior defense officials said yesterday.
The classified order, a 20-plus-page document that Rumsfeld signed Tuesday, identifies an array of forces and capabilities -- such as mechanized infantry units, midair refuelers and medical facilities -- that will be shipped and airlifted to Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and other Gulf nations in the coming weeks.
The document leaves it up to the individual military services to decide what specific units will fulfill Rumsfeld's force requirements. The Navy, for instance, issued "prepare to deploy" orders yesterday to two aircraft carrier battle groups and activated a hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, based in Baltimore, and ordered its crew to prepare a 1,000-bed trauma center.
"It's a little bit of everything, and it's very comprehensive," said one official, who declined to specify how many individuals would be affected by the order. "It's heavy on the logistics side."
The U.S. military has been deploying troops, aircraft, tanks, other heavy equipment and supplies to the Persian Gulf for months in anticipation of possible military action against Iraq. Currently, there are about 60,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the region and 400 aircraft at bases in Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain.
But this preliminary buildup has been kept as low-key as possible to avoid alarming the international community and creating the impression that the Bush administration had prejudged the U.N. arms inspection process.
Rumsfeld's deployment order marked the beginning of what officials have described as a far more visible buildup of forces. Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that amassing forces necessary for possible invasion of Iraq would serve to convince Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that his regime will be forcibly disarmed if he refuses to relinquish weapons of mass destruction in accordance with United Nations Resolution 1441. Hussein denies possessing such weapons.
"We're going to continue to deploy forces in a steady and deliberate buildup to help the diplomatic process and shorten the time frame from when the president makes a decision to when we can conduct operations," one senior defense official said yesterday.
The size of the force being amassed in the Gulf will be smaller than the roughly half-million assembled during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, though defense officials have declined to say exactly how many troops they would use in the event of war.
While Pentagon war plans are secret, defense officials and military analysts say they call for an optimum invasion force of three to four Army heavy divisions totaling in excess of 40,000 troops, equipped with hundreds of M-1 Abrams tanks and M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Reacting to Rumsfeld's order, the Army alerted the 1st and 3rd brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division, headquartered at Fort Stewart, Ga., that they might soon be deployed. The division's 2nd brigade is already in Kuwait.
The 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., is also likely to deploy with dozens of Apache helicopter gunships and Black Hawk troop transports, defense officials said.
The buildup is also expected to involve elements of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, with 17,500 troops, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Military experts anticipate an intensive air war lasting from several days to a week, with Special Operations forces moving rapidly into parts of southern, western and northern Iraq to seize airfields.
The final troops deploying from the United States could be flown directly into Iraq, current and former defense officials said.
As many as 500 to 1,000 aircraft could be in the air during the opening hours of the air war, each equipped with precision-guided bombs and capable of striking multiple targets, the officials said.
To begin building up forces necessary to conduct an attack of such magnitude, the Air Force's Air Combat Command said yesterday five air units had received deployment orders in the last 24 hours, including fighters, bombers, Predator reconnaissance drones and combat search-and-rescue helicopter and aircraft. Rumsfeld's order also calls for airlift and tanker aircraft to be deployed, but the Air Mobility Command has yet to issue orders to specific units.
Defense officials also expect the Air Force to move F-117 stealth fighters, which played a critical role in the opening of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to Al Jaber air base in Kuwait.
The Air Force has already signaled that it intends to use its other stealth aircraft, the B-2 bomber, from new maintenance shelters on the island of Diego Garcia and from bases in Britain. B-52 and B-1 bombers also would fly from Diego Garcia and Britain.
The Air Force units receiving deployment orders yesterday are scattered across the United States, reflecting the multifaceted air power Rumsfeld intends to amass in the Persian Gulf. The orders also show why it will be hard to conceal the final buildup for a possible Iraq war, since dozens of communities in five states will be immediately affected.
The units are the 1st Fighter Wing, an F-15C fighter unit based at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia; the 4th Fighter Wing, an F-15E unit at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina; the 28th Bomb Wing, a B-1B unit at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota; HH-60 combat search-and-rescue helicopters and Predator reconnaissance drones assigned to the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, and the 347th Rescue Wing, an HC-130 unit, at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
The final buildup is also expected to involve between 200,000 to 250,000 reserve and National Guard members, some of whom will be sent to the Gulf and some of whom will be activated to guard bases in the United States.
The Pentagon may end up activating even more reserve and National Guard members than it did in 1991, largely because the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have created security requirements at bases in the United States that did not exist 12 years ago.
In a sign that Rumsfeld's order has already begun to trigger this large-scale activation, the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 124th Infantry Regiment, a Florida National Guard unit, have been instructed to report to Fort Stewart in 10 days for mobilization.