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U.S. picks up pace on troop buildup

©Associated Press
February 6, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The buildup of American land, sea and air forces in the Persian Gulf is accelerating, officials said Wednesday.

The number of U.S. troops in the region stands at about 113,000 -- many of them in Kuwait, the likely main launch point for a U.S.-led ground invasion -- and is expected to reach 150,000 by Feb. 15, the Associated Press reported.

Mid February is widely thought to be the earliest date that U.S. forces would be ready to begin an invasion of Iraq, but officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said they may need some weeks beyond that. By the latter part of February the size of the U.S. force is likely to exceed 200,000 troops.

The force has been assembling in the Persian Gulf region since December, including a seven-ship Navy fleet that entered the Red Sea this week carrying about 7,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Lejeune, N.C. A similar size group of California-based Marines is en route to the region on seven other ships.

The AP reported, quoting a senior defense official, that the Navy will have six or seven aircraft carriers within striking distance of Iraq by the end of this month.

The Pentagon also announced Wednesday that an additional 16,979 reservists had been called to active duty over the past week. The total number on active duty, including those assigned to homeland defense, stands at 111,603.

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