Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has ordered tens of thousands more troops to the Gulf region, continuing a military build-up for a possible new war with Iraq.

Pentagon sources say the latest deployment orders signed by Mr. Rumsfeld cover some 62,000 U.S. military personnel, many of them ground combat troops but also aviation units, including F-117 Stealth fighters.

These are in addition to the 25,000 ordered to the Gulf in late December. Coupled with the 60,000 troops already in the region, the force now being assembled will within weeks total close to 150,000 airmen, marines, sailors and soldiers.

Some officials say the eventual size of the force sent to the region could total close to a quarter-million troops.

Defense officials say the troop movements are intended to give President Bush the option to use force against Iraq in a showdown over Baghdad's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological and nuclear arms.

But they stress Mr. Bush has still not made any decision about an attack.

Still, military analysts say U.S. forces could be in a position to strike as early as next month. The Defense Department has already pre-positioned equipment, ammunition and other supplies around the region.

In addition, key members of the U.S. battle planning staff have in recent days been ordered back to the Gulf state of Qatar, where a sophisticated portable command-and-control center was set up last year at a military base outside Doha.