U.S. orders 35,000 more troops to Persian Gulf
Coalition aircraft bomb sites in southern Iraq
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed a deployment order Friday to send an additional 35,000 U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf region.
It is the largest deployment order since the United States began a buildup of forces last month in case of a war against Iraq.
The orders affect about 7,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, who had already been ordered aboard three ships -- the USS Saipan, the USS Ponce and the USS Gunston Hall -- which left from their home port of Norfolk, Virginia, on Friday. (Full story)
Friday's order brings the number deployed to the gulf region to around 80,000.
The Pentagon planned to have well over 100,000 troops in the region by the end of January, and sources have indicated the total number of regular, Guard and reserve forces that might be deployed could be about 200,000 to 250,000.
Meanwhile, coalition warplanes already in the region Friday forcefully answered Iraqi challenges in the "no fly" zone south of Baghdad.
In the sixth coalition strike day in southern Iraq since the beginning of the new year, six U.S. and British warplanes dropped bombs on several Iraqi communications sites in what the Pentagon said were defensive strikes. Iraq does not recognize the northern and southern "no-fly" zones.
The strikes came as the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency said weapons inspectors in Iraq need more intelligence information from the United States and greater cooperation from Baghdad.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was in Washington to discuss Iraq and North Korea with top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"I've told the secretary we are inching forward but not as fast as I would like to be" in Iraq, ElBaradei said after his meeting with Powell.
"Iraq has been cooperating well in the area of process, but not as much in the area of substance. We'd like to see more evidence, more documentation ... more physical evidence of the destruction of items they said they have disposed of."
ElBaradei also said he wants Baghdad to cooperate with inspectors' requests for private interviews with Iraqi scientists. Inspectors believe some scientists might have information about weapons programs that they will divulge only privately and only if their safety is assured.
ElBaradei said he and chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix will travel to Iraq on January 19 "to impress on the Iraqis that we cannot continue to have open questions."
Powell said ElBaradei briefed him on that trip and the need for increased cooperation from Baghdad. "Let there be no question in anyone's mind," Powell said, "Iraq must be disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction. ... The people of the world have spoken."
ElBaradei met with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The United States has said it has information proving that Iraq possesses prohibited weapons. But U.N. inspectors say they have found no "smoking gun" as they scour Iraq for weapons of mass destruction.
In other developments:
• The Pentagon and government agencies have begun sending e-mail to key Iraqi leaders. A senior military official says, "this is just the beginning of a psychological warfare campaign" to convince Iraqi leaders they cannot win a war against the United States and its allies. The messages include instructions to contact the United Nations if they want to defect.
• Three U.S. Navy ships left their home port in Norfolk, Virginia, on Friday to pick up several thousand Marines in North Carolina, Navy officials said. (Full Story)
• Britain's flagship carrier, HMS Ark Royal, is preparing to set sail as the military buildup in the Persian Gulf continues. The aircraft carrier will lead a flotilla to the Mediterranean Sea and eventually to military exercises in Southeast Asia. (Full Story)
• Turkey has agreed to allow the United States to survey some of its military bases and ports for possible use in case of war with Iraq, Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said Friday. The agreement, signed Friday, does not allow U.S. troops to use the bases.
The coalition airstrikes took place around an air defense command-and-control site at Tallil, about 170 miles southeast of Baghdad; and four cable repeater sites between Al Kut and Basra, 100 miles to 245 miles southeast of Baghdad, respectively, according to a written statement from U.S. Central Command.
The bombings were prompted by anti-aircraft fire against coalition aircraft keeping tabs on Iraqi military capabilities as part of the long-running Operation Southern Watch, Central Command said.
CNN military correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this article.