Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says war with Iraq is not inevitable. But senior defense officials are pressing ahead with a military build-up in the Gulf region, including the dispatch of key battle planning personnel.

The U.S. military's Central Command is sending members of its battle planning staff to the Gulf state of Qatar where they could coordinate a possible new offensive against Iraq.

The move comes as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the steady build-up of U.S. forces in the Gulf region reflects an effort by the Defense Department to give President Bush the option to use force if necessary.

But Mr. Rumsfeld said war is not inevitable and that he believes the use of force should be the last choice.

Instead, he said the best option for resolving the latest crisis over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs is for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to simply capitulate and go into exile to facilitate his country's disarmament.

"I still hope that he [Saddam] will leave and I hope that the country [Iraq] will be disarmed and I hope that force will not have to be used but in the meantime we will keep flowing forces," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Neither Mr. Rumsfeld nor General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces, will give any details of the latest military deployments to the Gulf.

General Myers said such information could help America's potential adversaries. "If we were to delineate number of troops, types of weapons systems that are postured in the region, it would just not be very useful," he said.

Despite this, defense officials have indicated some 25,000 additional forces are heading to the region to bolster the nearly 60,000 already scattered throughout the Gulf area.

Among the latest deployments to be revealed are an undisclosed number of battle planners who are being sent to Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar. That is the base where last month the U.S. military held a major computer-based command-and-control exercise viewed as a dress rehearsal for a new war with Iraq.

Military officials refuse to say how many personnel are involved in the move. They say only that the Central Command, responsible for the Gulf region, will continue to cycle personnel in and out of Qatar and other countries. They say these movements are in support of the ongoing effort to resolve the crisis with Iraq diplomatically.