- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

In the United States, Great Britain and Australia major troop and equipment deployments to the Persian Gulf region were underway Saturday with officials in the three countries still saying there has as yet been no political decision to attack Iraq.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Friday signed orders that send an additional 35,000 U.S. troops to the Gulf region, CNN reported.

No source was cited for the report and a Pentagon spokesman told United Press International that only units in receipt of the orders can disclose their existence.

Several did. The widening mosaic of deployments provided the broad outline of the gathering momentum of the U.S.-led mobilization.

Friday's orders brought the number of U.S. troops directed to the region for use in any war against Iraq to about 80,000 with the total by the end of the month expected to be about 100,000.

The total U.S. troop strength in the region that ultimately will be deployed is expected to be more than 200,000.

KFDX-TV in Wichita Falls, Texas Saturday said 7,000 Marines from Camp LeJeune, N.C. are among the latest to be called up. The deployment includes aircraft, infantry, tanks and amphibious vehicles. About 1,000 Marines are already in the Gulf region.

The Hampton Roads, Va. Daily Press Saturday reported an amphibious ready group of three ships made a sudden departure from port Friday capable of landing a force of 2,000 Marines along with their equipment.

Two other ships, with coastal patrol missions, and the experimental HSV-X1 Joint Venture ship received their orders late Friday, the Navy announced, without divulging what the orders were. The HSV-X1 is a high-speed catamaran modified to launch heavy-duty helicopters.

The Charlotte Observer reported that the 1st Battalion of the 130th Attack Helicopter Regiment, based at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina, began gathering Friday and will be fully mobilized by the end of the month.

Elsewhere in North Carolina, the heavy truck transportation unit that supports elements of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg were placed on alert status.

About 1,000 soldiers from six units of the 18th Airborne Corps stationed at Fort Bragg will leave within the next two weeks to join the 13,000 troops already deployed, KentuckyNewEra.com reported.

Stars and Stripes reported 250 railway cars were loaded with hundreds of pieces of construction equipment operated by the 94th Engineer Battalion based in Vilseck, Germany to be sent on their way Saturday to a port in Belgium where it all will be placed on board a ship headed for the Gulf region.

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard announced Friday he had approved an advance deployment to the area of a squadron of 14 F/A-18 jet fighters, The Sydney Morning Herald reported Saturday.

With the departure Saturday toward the Gulf of Britain's flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, that country began its biggest maritime deployment in 20 years.

Ark Royal will be joined in the Mediterranean by another 14 Royal Navy vessels, including the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean. But as elsewhere, U.K. officials stressed the political decision to attack Iraq had not yet been made.

Shipping sources told Britain's The Guardian newspaper that the Ministry of Defence has already chartered more than 30 ships to transport tanks, artillery and vehicles to the Gulf. One source said the contracts for the ships contained no cancellation clauses. But they included a secrecy clause.

A Russian vessel, the Sochi, was already loading British equipment at the Ministry of Defence docks at Marchwood, near Southampton, according to Lloyds' List, the authoritative shipping journal.

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