- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) — The hospital ship USNS Comfort — last deployed off the coast of Manhattan to help victims of the September terrorist attack — departed Baltimore on Monday for the Indian Ocean, a medical outpost for a war with Iraq.

Deployment orders and alerts are flowing fast and furious from the Pentagon to units that could be called on to fight Saddam Hussein. There are around 60,000 American fighters in the region already; an additional 50,000 — including 10,000 Army reservists — are expected to arrive shortly.

Still, Pentagon officials insist no decisions have been made with regard to starting a war. The deployment of so many soldiers is simply a matter of giving President George W. Bush options, they say: an option to launch a quick strike at a moment's notice, rather than waiting to build up forces after they are given a green light.

Defense officials tell United Press International that from a cold start, it would take about two months to move adequate forces into the region to launch an attack.

War plans reportedly call for up to 250,000 troops, roughly half what was used in the first Gulf War. The number is smaller for two prime reasons: First, the U.S. Army is about half the size it was in 1991, now counting less than 500,000 active-duty troops in its ranks.

Second, the military relies far more heavily on precision-guided munitions, which generally take out one target per bomb. This is a dramatic reversal from Gulf War-era kill ratios, when only 10 percent of the munitions used were precision.

Any declaration of war is unlikely until after Jan. 27, when U.N. arms inspectors report to the Security Council whether they found evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

In the meantime, Bush is engaging in tough talk — a tactic that could be an indication of what's to come, or simply a means of keeping pressure on Saddam Hussein's regime, with the hope he will voluntarily leave the country.

"Should Saddam Hussein seal his fate by refusing to disarm, by ignoring the opinion of the world, you will be fighting not to conquer anybody, but to liberate people," he said Friday to rousing applause from Army troops at Fort Hood, Texas.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly stated his opinion that it was the combination of strong talk and strong military presence that enabled the U.N. to insert weapons teams into Baghdad after four years with no inspections.

USA Today reported Monday that 275 Army Reserve units have received alert orders to be ready to deploy between Jan. 10 and Feb. 15.

The 1st and 3rd brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia, have received deployment orders, most likely to Kuwait. The division's 2nd Brigade is already there, along with most of the division's equipment.

The 1st Armored and 1st Infantry Divisions in Germany have received alert orders.

The Marine Amphibious Ready Group departed from California Monday for the Persian Gulf on its previously scheduled deployment.

The USS Constellation and the Harry S. Truman carrier battle groups, each with roughly 20,000 sailors, are already in the region.

At least five Air Force units have received deployment orders, according to the Center for Defense Information. They include the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Va., with F-15s, the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., with F-15Es, the 28th Bomb Wing, at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., with B-1B bombers, helicopters and reconnaissance drones from the 57th Wing at Nellis AFB, Nev., and the 347th Rescue Wing, with HC-130 rescue aircraft, at Moody AFB in Georgia.

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