Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has ordered more ships and troops to the Gulf region, continuing the steady build-up of U.S. forces for a possible war.
Navy officials confirm they have been ordered to prepare two carrier battle groups for deployment - one from the west coast of the United States and the other from the east coast.
Each group consists of an aircraft carrier, at least seven escort vessels, and about 7,500 personnel.
Though the Navy will not officially discuss their destinations, Pentagon sources make clear the battle groups will head for the Gulf region. Two other carrier battle groups are already positioned for a possible new war with Iraq - one in the Gulf and the other in the eastern Mediterranean.
Word of the ship deployments comes after Defense officials disclosed Mr. Rumsfeld has ordered 37,000 more ground combat troops to the Gulf.
These latest deployments of ships and soldiers raise the total number of forces ordered to the region since late December to nearly 140,000.
There are already about 60,000 in the Gulf and Afghanistan.
Some Pentagon officials have said the build-up could eventually total 250,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
In remarks Monday in Washington, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld indicated the U.S. forces could move on Iraq soon, if Baghdad fails to cooperate fully with United Nations weapons inspectors or if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein does not give up power and go into exile.
Speaking to the Reserve Officers Association, Mr. Rumsfeld said that in the case of Iraq "we are nearing the end of a long road where every other option" besides military action "has been exhausted."