Tens of thousands of U.S. Marines could be sent to the Gulf region in the event of a new war with Iraq.
Senior Pentagon officials remain largely tight-lipped about planned troop movements to the Gulf region in anticipation of a possible new war with Iraq.
But one top military leader has now given a clear sign that the forces planners have earmarked for a conflict may indeed total up to 250,000 troops as previously indicated by some Pentagon sources.
General James Jones, the outgoing commandant of the Marine Corps, has said he anticipates some 65,000 to 75,000 Marines alone will be dispatched to the region. "It's somewhere around 65,000 to 75,000 Marines is what we are looking at, if you are really thinking about what are the numbers," he said. "For our contribution that's about what it would be."
That is less than the 90,000 Marines deployed during the 1991 Gulf war in which a half million U.S. forces participated. But it is still a figure that amounts to nearly half the entire active Marine Corps.
General Jones was responding to a reporter's question in Washington Wednesday.
Marine officials stress the General's comments do not mean that tens of thousand of Marines have already received formal orders to deploy to the Gulf.
Pentagon officials say that so far, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has only signed off on orders sending an additional 25,000 troops, bolstering the 60,000 already in the region. These come from all branches of the military, the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Marines. About 1,000 Marines are already in Kuwait.
Officials acknowledge thousands more troops have been given so-called alert orders to prepare for possible movement in connection with the Gulf build-up.
Scores of reserve units have received such alert orders. Officials say if these forces are indeed called to active duty, they could be sent to the Gulf but might also be deployed in Europe or in the United States itself, replacing regular military units that will be sent to the Mideast.
Overall, Pentagon officials concede there is a fog associated with the numbers of forces involved in the build-up. But they say the fog is intentional not only for security reasons but also to keep Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein guessing about U.S. preparations.