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US Buildup Around Persian Gulf Accelerates - 2003-02-07

The buildup of U.S. air, land and sea units in and around the Persian Gulf is accelerating, as commanders prepare for a possible war with Iraq.

Pentagon sources say another U.S. aircraft carrier battle group is expected to head for the Gulf region soon, bringing to five the number of carriers that will be prepared to launch strikes against Iraq within the next few weeks.

Three carriers are already in position - two in the Arabian Sea and one in the eastern Mediterranean. A fourth has just left the Caribbean for the region. The fifth, expected to leave soon, is the USS Kitty Hawk, which is based in Japan.

Another carrier will be dispatched from the United States to replace it to ensure a continued presence in the Pacific, at a time when U.S. officials are grappling with another crisis - a nuclear standoff with North Korea.

About 110,000 U.S. military personnel are already in the Gulf region, about half in Kuwait. Thousands more are expected shortly.

The latest combat units to get orders for the Gulf include the 101st Airborne Division, which played a key role in the 1991 Gulf war, and whose troops have been involved in anti-terrorist activities in Afghanistan.

The 101st also includes a contingent of 270 combat helicopters.

Some Pentagon officials say the overall U.S. military buildup could eventually total 250,000. But with more than 100,000 already there, defense officials say the Pentagon is ready to go on the offensive as soon as President Bush directs.