The Pentagon has ordered 27,000 more Army and Air Force troops to the Persian Gulf, defense officials said Saturday, in a move that analysts said will complete a force of more than 120,000 troops capable of carrying out an initial invasion of Iraq if ordered by President Bush.
The Army and Air Force received the overnight orders early Saturday, just hours after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday ordered 35,000 Marines and Army soldiers to the Persian Gulf.
The surge of deployments will deliver the combat troops to an arc of bases and seaborne vessels around Iraq over the next few weeks, in a massive buildup that follows a flow of equipment and war planners already in the Gulf or en route. The orders will double the 60,000 American troops already in the region.
Although the Pentagon is expected to send as many as 250,000 troops to the Persian Gulf in case of a war, the deployments ordered since Friday would provide the force necessary to begin a battle, with additional troops likely to come later in a series of "rolling deployments," military analysts said.
"If the president decides to go to war in early February, he will have the initial invasion force there," said Clark Murdoch, a former head of Air Force planning now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington public policy institute.
Pentagon strategists confirmed the rapidly growing force in what Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described last week as a "steady, deliberate buildup." The Bush administration intends news of the growing force to intensify psychological pressure on the government of Saddam Hussein, military analysts said.
The Iraqi president's tired appearance during a recent television address, along with intelligence reports indicating he is making military changes, suggested that the tactic is working, said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.
"You reach a point in any mobilization where the preparations become impossible to conceal, but in this case we want Saddam to notice and to change his behavior in response," Thompson said. "Saddam at this point is spending sleepless nights. He's moving constantly. He's reshuffling his military, which is a very bad sign. All the indications are the American mobilization is affecting his behavior."
The latest order includes Air Force crews and an Army airborne infantry brigade. Air Force F-117 jets, stealth fighters from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico that are designed to strike early targets undetected, are among aircraft being deployed by the latest order, defense officials said.
The F-117s could be used along with radar-evading batwing B-2 bombers, already based on the island of Diego Garcia, to launch the initial strikes of a war and to hit sensitive targets in Baghdad, where Hussein's government has a sophisticated array of antiaircraft weaponry designed to down less-stealthy planes.
Army officials did not identify the units to be sent.
The Air Force and Army troops will join thousands of Marines from Camp Pendleton and from Camp Lejeune, N.C., Marine officials said. As many as five Navy aircraft carriers, two of them already in the Gulf, are expected to be available, Navy officials said. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James L. Jones said last week that he expected 65,000 to 75,000 Marines to join the force in case of war.
Four amphibious assault ships -- the Ashland, the Portland, the Kearsarge and the Bataan -- are expected to depart from Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Va., today with about 7,000 Marines and sailors, a Navy official said.
On Saturday, the Marine Corps announced that troops from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, headquartered at Camp Pendleton, have been ordered to deploy to the Gulf. Seven Navy ships docked in San Diego have been loaded with the Marines' gear and equipment. A senior Navy official said more than 6,000 Marines from Camp Pendleton will be sent to the Gulf. An additional 2,200 left last week, and several hundred have been in Kuwait since November.
The Marine Corps did not announce when the seven ships would leave for the 37-day transit to the Gulf.
The troops include Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton; Yuma, Ariz.; Twentynine Palms; and the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.
"The president of the United States has made no decision about military action against Iraq. However, our forces are trained, prepared and ready should they be called upon," said a Marine Corps spokesman.
The British aircraft carrier Ark Royal set sail Saturday toward the Gulf, where officials said it could be used in any military attack on Iraq.
Staff writer Tony Perry in San Diego contributed to this report.