Nearly 35,000 U.S. troops, including Army ground and aviation units and two large groups of Marines, have been ordered to deploy for a possible war against Iraq, defense officials said Friday.
The deployment order, signed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this week and announced Friday, brings to more than 65,000 the number of troops ordered since Christmas to leave their bases in the United States and Europe and take up positions in and around the Persian Gulf.
The troop departures will be spread out over the remainder of the month, officials said.
About 7,000 of the Marines in the deployment order are part of an amphibious task force based on the West Coast, a defense official said.
Those Marines, who another official said are assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, are packed and ready to be deployed aboard seven Navy ships docked at San Diego for the 37-day transit to the Persian Gulf.
On Monday, 2,200 Marines left San Diego aboard three ships. Several hundred Marines from Camp Pendleton have been in Kuwait since November.
Marine commandant Gen. James L. Jones said in an address Wednesday at the National Press Club here that the corps would probably send a total of 65,000 to 75,000 Marines to the Gulf, largely from the San Diego base.
A second amphibious task force of 7,000 more Marines has been ordered to deploy from Camp Lejeune, N.C., the Marines' main East Coast base, officials said.
Three Virginia-based ships received orders Friday, Associated Press reported.
Army officials could not be reached immediately for comment on which of the service's units would be sent to the Iraq region.
A senior defense official said the Friday deployment order did not include Air Force or Navy units. Rumsfeld's first major deployment order was signed Dec. 24 and called for about 25,000 troops to head overseas. Earlier this week, he signed another order for about 5,000 more troops.
Senior defense officials and military analysts have said the eventual U.S.-led force would number as many as 250,000 troops, but Pentagon strategists are prepared to begin a war on Iraq, if ordered by President Bush, with perhaps half that number and bring in others as needed in a series of "rolling deployments."
Earlier this week, the Marine Corps issued an order barring virtually all Marines from leaving the service as the Air Force began sending dozens of fighters and bombers to the Gulf in a surge of deployments to prepare for a potential war, defense officials said Thursday.
The Marines' freeze was the first servicewide since the 1991 Persian Gulf War with Iraq.
Times staff writer Tony Perry in San Diego contributed to this report.