- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

The Pentagon, preparing for a war in Iraq, is dispatching an array of naval combat power to the Persian Gulf region, including two seven-ship armadas carrying thousands of Marines.
The Navy is also prepared to put as many as six aircraft carriers within striking distance of Iraq. Two are in position, two are prepared to sprint to the region and two are gearing up for deployment.
On Monday, officials disclosed that the Navy is preparing to deploy as early as this week a seven-ship armada with 6,000 to 7,000 Marines from California. The amphibious force would mirror a seven-ship deployment of about 7,000 Marines from the East Coast, which headed out during the weekend, the officials said.
The task forces will present Gen. Tommy Franks, in charge of the Central Command and who would run a war against Iraq, with the option of amphibious assaults from the northern Persian Gulf, the officials said. Marines could also go ashore in Kuwait to be part of an Army-led land attack in southern Iraq.
Trained to operate in austere environments, the Marines could also move by helicopter into Iraq from their ships in the Gulf or from Kuwait to establish forward bases, as they did in southern Afghanistan early in the 2001 war.
About 60,000 U.S. troops are in the Gulf region, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed orders in recent days for an additional 67,000 to go there during the next few weeks. The size of the U.S. force arrayed against Iraq could reach 250,000.
The vessels pegged for movement with Marines from the West Coast are the amphibious assault ships USS Bonhomme Richard and USS Boxer; the USS Cleveland and USS Dubuque, amphibious transport dock ships that carry troops, vehicles and cargo; and three dock-landing ships that carry troops and amphibious craft such as air-cushioned troop transports the USS Comstock, USS Anchorage and USS Pearl Harbor.

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