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Over 25,000 more troops heading to Persian Gulf

Source: Larger than force mobilized Christmas Eve

From Jamie McIntyre and Mike Mount
CNN Washington Bureau

Soldiers from Fort Benning leave Monday for the Persian Gulf region.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More than 25,000 soldiers and Marines are heading to the Persian Gulf region this week, and nearly 50,000 National Guard and reserve troops are likely to join them there by February 15 as the U.S. buildup for a potential war with Iraq continues, Pentagon sources said Monday.

Under orders that could be signed before the end of the day, a "significant number" of Marines from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force will head out, the sources said. Part of its headquarters staff has already been deployed in Kuwait.

In addition, soldiers from the Army's 5th Corps, based in Germany, will be getting orders this week, the sources said.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials said the number of National Guard and reserve troops activated for a possible war with Iraq could grow from almost 54,000 now to as many as 100,000 by February 15, with most of the new call-ups heading for the Persian Gulf.

The activations will include entire National Guard and reserve units as well as partial units that contain troops with specialized skills.

Pentagon sources have indicated the total number of regular, Guard and reserve forces that might be deployed in case of war against Iraq could be about 200,000 to 250,000.

The deployment orders are part of a buildup that has been gaining momentum since Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed a large-scale call-up order for regular, Guard and reserve troops December 24.

"These deployment orders will cover a larger number of troops than the Christmas Eve orders," said a senior Pentagon official, who described the pace of deployments as "steady."

Under the December 24 orders, about 25,000 regular troops, including two brigades of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Benning and Fort Stewart in Georgia, were sent to the Persian Gulf region, and thousands of Guard and reserve troops began preparing for deployment.

As of late last week, the 53,816 Guard and reserve troops on active duty in support of the mobilization included:

• 29,927 from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve

• 4,269 from the Naval Reserve

• 15,005 from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve

• 3,856 from the Marine Corps Reserve

• 759 from the Coast Guard Reserve

The newest deployment orders will bring the number of regular U.S. troops in the region to well over 100,000 by the end of January, with more deployments expected to follow.

One senior military official said the number of Marines deployed from the 1st Expeditionary Force could exceed 65,000.

The recent deployment orders do not include the 4,000 sailors and Marines who left San Diego on Monday aboard ships of the Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group.

Pentagon officials said those forces are heading to the region as part of the scheduled deployment of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Pendleton in California.

The task force includes the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa, and the USS Duluth and USS Rushmore.

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort also departed Monday, heading for Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. (See story)

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