The Army is sending its most modern combat division to the Persian Gulf region and the Navy is dispatching two aircraft carriers to join two others already within striking distance of Iraq, officials said Tuesday.
The Army's 4th Infantry Division, equipped with tanks, attack helicopters and artillery to defeat armored forces, is heading a group of 37,000 soldiers ordered to reposition in the Persian Gulf region. Their equipment will be shipped first, with the soldiers to go when final basing arrangements are worked out, officials said.
The Army announced on Monday that Task Force Ironhorse will join tens of thousands of other American forces that have been assembling in preparation for possible war against Iraq.
On Tuesday, defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had decided to order two more aircraft carriers to the Gulf region. They will be the USS Abraham Lincoln, which has been in Perth, Australia, for repairs following a six-month tour in the Gulf region, and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is currently training off the U.S. East Coast. Rumsfeld also is considering sending one or two more carriers to the region, for a possible total of six.
The 4th Infantry Division, nicknamed the Ivy Division, is considered the Army's most lethal, modern, and deployable heavy division, with the most sophisticated information-gathering, command and control equipment.
In addition to about 12,500 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, nearly 4,000 soldiers from the division's 3rd Brigade at Fort Carson, Colo., and more than 20,000 troops from 10 other installations comprise the task force, according to Fort Hood spokesman Cecil Green.
Green said he could not provide more details, such as the country where the soldiers will be deployed or when they would ship out.
Officials in Washington said it was possible that parts or all of the task force would go to Turkey. The Pentagon has wanted to put ground forces into Turkey to establish the option of invading Iraq from the north. Thousands of U.S. forces already are in Kuwait, training for a possible attack on Iraq from the south.
The Turkish government, however, has so far refused to permit any sizable U.S. ground force to assemble there.
In a bid to clear the way for an agreement on U.S. troops, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Turkish military leaders in Ankara, the capital. Afterward he refused to discuss details.
"Turkey has been a very cooperative partner," Myers told reporters. "I would expect them to be in the future as well."
Elsewhere on Iraq's periphery, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been reluctant to host a large number of U.S. ground forces, although it does accommodate U.S. air forces. The operations center from which the air portion of an Iraq war would be orchestrated is at Prince Sultan Air Base, south of Riyadh, the Saudi capital. In the 1991 Gulf War, most U.S. ground forces entered Iraq and occupied Kuwait from Saudi territory.
Rumsfeld apparently gave the go-ahead to deploy Task Force Ironhorse last week. In remarks to the Reserve Officers Association on Monday, Rumsfeld made no reference to the Army deployment and said it remained possible that the Iraqi crisis could be resolved peacefully.
Rumsfeld insisted that, if war comes, the United States will not have to act alone.
"Let there be no doubt, there are large numbers of countries that are signed up to be helpful in the event that force is needed in dealing with Iraq," he said. "This business about going it alone or unilateral is nonsense. There are a substantial number of countries that are ready to help. There are also a number of countries that are ready to help after it's over in terms of a coalition to assist with the humanitarian aspects of the country."
In a series of deployment orders dating to Dec. 24 last year, Rumsfeld has given the go-ahead for at least 125,000 U.S. forces to head toward the Gulf. They will join the roughly 60,000 troops already training there, and Pentagon plans call for the total eventually to reach 250,000 for war and postwar stabilization.