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 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 16:43 GMT
Analysis: US military readies for war
More than 250,000 US military personnel could be deployed to the Gulf region.
More than 250,000 US personnel could be deployed
The BBC's Nick Childs

"We're ready now," said the Chairman of the US Joint Chief of Staff, General Richard Myers last week.

And, indeed, the US military could begin limited operations against Iraq now. But it's probably still some weeks away from being in an ideal position to launch an attack on its own terms.

Behind the scenes, senior Pentagon officials have been saying that they will be in a position from the middle of February to offer President Bush a wide range of military options.

That does not necessarily mean that a war would start immediately then.

Once President Bush has issued an "execute" order for a war plan, there would probably be a final rapid build-up of forces over a couple of weeks or so.

US marines
Marines are expected to play a key role in any war
That would suggest that, if President Bush makes a decision to take military action, the earliest that military operations could start may well be March.

As for the build-up, there were approximately 60,000 personnel in the Central Command area when the big deployment orders began to be issued just before Christmas.

Since then, orders for just over 120,000 personnel have been issued.

The Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has taken a very active role in the issuing of deployment orders, and the pace of the build-up is as much down to him as it is any of the military commanders.

Senior defence officials say he has been reluctant to sign off on deployments unless convinced of the need to mobilise the particular forces concerned.

The best guess is that the Pentagon is aiming for at least 250,000 personnel altogether, and it could go as high as 350,000.

So, there are something over 180,000 personnel in or on their way to the Central Command area of operations, which could be in place in the second half of February or early March.

Still the best guess is that the Pentagon is aiming for at least 250,000 personnel altogether, and it could go as high as 350,000.

Positioning troops

But the majority of the forces mobilised have not left yet, and many may not for some weeks.

Within the recent deployment of the 4th Infantry Division, the unit was told to start moving its equipment but not its personnel immediately - apparently while the Pentagon worked out whether it could send this force to Turkey.

US soldiers in Germany
Extra US troops are being flown to the Gulf
But this total includes all army, marines, air force, and navy personnel.

And Central Command's area of operations also includes Afghanistan, which accounts for about 10,000 personnel, and other parts of central Asia, Pakistan, and the Horn of Africa, which can account for a few thousand more.

Clearly some could be switched to Iraq duty, but not all.

In terms of combat forces, the mobilisation so far seems is basically two full army divisions and at least a division equivalent of US Marines (50-60,000 personnel in all), plus elements of other army and Marine units.

It is expected that two more divisions could be deployed.

Attack options

Two carrier battle groups have also received deployment orders, involving approximately 150 aircraft, 16-20 ships, and 16,000 personnel (on top of two already in the region), with the possibility that one or two more might go.

The carriers, of course, could operate in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, or the Gulf, so offering various angles of attack against Iraq.

USS Comfort
A US hospital ship is already sailing to the area
The air power reinforcements include B-1s, F-15s, F-16s, plus other specialist aircraft, on top of 400 or so already in the region.

The plan for such an assembly of forces would be to launch a simultaneous or near-simultaneous air and land offensive, to devastate Iraq's defensive capabilities.

But while March may be the earliest such a plan could be put in operation, how long could US forces wait if diplomacy continued to play out?

General Myers says months. Forces could continue to train and acclimatise, they could even be rotated.

But this could not go on indefinitely. The cost and the drain with this level of build-up would be considerable.

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27 Jan 03 | Americas
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