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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 01:35 GMT
US 'D-Day' force for Iraq
US soldiers
The new troops are desert specialists

The rapid acceleration in the United States' Gulf build-up certainly leaves the impression that war is suddenly a lot closer.

But the politicians still insist that no decisions have been made and that this raising of the military stakes is, for now, as much to support diplomacy as anything.

It is significant that large numbers of marines are included in the latest deployments.

They are precisely the kinds of mobile forces needed to launch a rapid attack, if ordered.

Iraqi army volunteers march during a military parade in Basra, southern Iraq.
Iraqi army volunteers are preparing for war
A senior US defence official told the BBC that the deployment orders are focusing more on picking particular capabilities than mobilising whole formations in the traditional sense.

He suggested that this shows that any attack, if it came, would also not be a traditional frontal assault.

But some analysts are not convinced.

They suggest that what is emerging is a very traditional, almost 'D-Day-style' invasion force.

Hybrid force

They argue that this shows that the conservative military has won the internal debate with the Pentagon's civilian leaders over what sort of force is necessary.

Certainly, heavier army units are expected to join the build-up.

In fact, what is emerging looks like something of a hybrid - a large force but one capable of rapid operations.

It has been thrashed out over months of discussions.

Secret briefings

The latest deployments are almost certainly the result of briefings in Washington last week given to top officials from President Bush downwards by the man who would run any war with Iraq, General Tommy Franks.

The expected deployment of 150,000 personnel in and around the Gulf by the second half of February would be enough to launch what the Pentagon calls a rolling start attack, with more reinforcements arriving rapidly after that.


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