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More U.S. troops, armor head to Iraq

Dozen Marines missing after fight near Nasiriya

Explosions could be heard in Baghdad late Thursday.

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(CNN) As President Bush declared the war in Iraq would last "however long it takes to win," the Pentagon said Thursday that 130,000 more troops were being deployed to the Persian Gulf region.

The first wave of about 30,000 soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division and other unidentified units based at Fort Hood, Texas, were expected to deploy in the next few days, Pentagon officials told CNN. Another 100,000 ground troops will be deployed to the region next month, most of them in armored divisions and mechanized units.

Officials said the deployments represent a continuation of the Pentagon's plan and not a change in strategy.

In southern Iraq, 12 U.S. Marines were listed as missing amid fighting around Nasiriya within the past 24 hours, military officials said. Eleven of the 12 are with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and teams are combing the desert for them. Officials said another 14 Marines from Camp LeJeune were wounded in the battle.

In Iraq, the country's information minister said Thursday that Baghdad would be the "graveyard" of coalition forces and they would lose "even if they bring double American troops." (Full story)

Meanwhile, a U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber dropped two satellite-guided "bunker-buster" bombs Thursday on a target in Baghdad, shaking a large area and shrouding parts of the city in a thick haze. At least one of the bombs was a 4,500-pound GBU-37.

U.S. Central Command said a B-2 Spirit "targeted and struck a major link in Iraq's national communication network" located on the east bank of the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad.

Iraq's International Communications Center, which operates Iraq's phone system, was ablaze after it was pounded. Buildings near Iraq's information ministry appeared to be hit, as well as the Al Salam palace of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Western reporters said.

"We are tightening the noose around Saddam," said Col. Tom Bright, U.S. Marine Corps chief at the Joint Operations Center in Doha, Qatar. "We're taking it to him from the south, from the north and from the west. ... Saddam needs to be worried."

In northern Iraq, U.S. troops, tanks and equipment of the 1st Infantry Division were being airlifted into the Kurdish-controlled northern area after about 1,000 paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade jumped in early Thursday and secured Harir airfield near Bashur.

The airfield is now a hub of activity, with C-130 and C-17 cargo planes arriving, unloading cargo and taking off again.

The soldiers will be used to protect Kurdish-controlled areas and can attack Iraqi troops from the north, said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks at a briefing at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar. (Full story)

Surrender and reinforcements

In central Iraq, six Iraqi men believed to be couriers for the Iraqi paramilitary group Saddam Fedayeen surrendered to members of the 101st Airborne Division after the men became disoriented in a sandstorm and were surrounded by U.S. troops.

The men -- who were not in uniform -- carried a large sum of U.S. money and instructions that may have been meant for Baath party leaders in a nearby town, according to Col. Mike Linnington, a 101st unit commander.

A newly released classified CIA intelligence report warned that irregular Iraqi forces could pose the greatest threat to coalition forces, particularly with "hit and run" attacks on supply lines and rear units, U.S. officials said. (Full story)

South of Baghdad, after braving nearly constant fire for 72 hours, the 3rd Squadron, 7th U.S. Cavalry got a break Thursday -- reinforcements and a chance to go to the back of the line for a short respite.

B-52 bombers and ground-based artillery smashed an Iraqi convoy overnight before it could reach the troops northeast of Najaf, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, soldiers in the field told CNN's Walter Rodgers, who is accompanying the 3-7th, the reconnaissance unit of the 3rd Infantry Division. (Full story) (Soldier's account)

Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed gave a different version of the battle, saying U.S. forces tried to encircle Najaf but failed to do so when they "sustained heavy casualties."

U.N. walkout

At Camp David, Maryland, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Saddam's forces would be defeated and Bush declared the war would last "however long it takes to win."

The two leaders also discussed the military effort and plans for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. (Full story)

Gunter Pleuger, Germany's ambassador to the United Nations, announced Thursday that the Security Council will vote Friday on a plan to resume Iraq's oil-for-food program.

Earlier, the U.S. delegation walked out of a council meeting as Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohamed Aldouri, accused the United States and Britain of "criminal, barbaric" behavior and military aggression "that is killing women, children and the elderly, and destroys the life and the future of the people of Iraq."

Speaking outside later, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said: "I'd heard enough. ... I didn't hear anything new and, of course, don't accept any of the kinds of allegations and preposterous positions that he put forward."

From Baghdad, Iraqi Health Minister Umid Midhat Mubarak said Thursday that more than 350 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war so far, and he accused coalition fighters of targeting them. "Women and children are being attacked, as soldiers are being attacked," he said. (Full story)

Other developments

• U.S. military officials denied a report Thursday that a second helicopter gunship was lost in action in Iraq, but admitted losing an unmanned reconnaissance drone.

• Coalition airstrikes have destroyed an Iraqi surface-to-surface missile launcher near Basra believed to be primarily responsible for missiles fired against Kuwait, military sources told CNN.

British soldiers work to secure a stronghold Thursday in Az Zubayr near Basra in southern Iraq.
British soldiers work to secure a stronghold Thursday in Az Zubayr near Basra in southern Iraq.

• No cease-fire is possible in Iraq as long as Saddam remains in power, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday told a Senate Appropriations Committee panel considering Bush's request for $74.7 billion for the war. (Full story)

• Coalition officials said Thursday that Iraqi forces in Najaf and Basra have threatened Iraqis with death if they don't pick up arms against U.S.-led forces. "Iraqi paramilitaries are rounding up children and others from their homes, saying males must fight for the regime or be executed," said Jim Wilkinson, assistant to Central Command leader Gen. Tommy Franks.

• Antiwar protesters blocked two lanes of traffic and a busy intersection Thursday morning in midtown Manhattan as part of a planned "die-in." (Full story)

• A British ship carrying humanitarian aid that was to arrive Thursday at the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr has been delayed a day because of concerns mines may still be in the waterway. (Full story)

• Forty-seven U.S. and British military personnel have been confirmed killed since the conflict began. (Coalition casualties)

CNN Correspondents Christiane Amanpour, Tom Mintier, Steve Nettleton, Thomas Nybo, Nic Robertson, Walter Rodgers, Brent Sadler, Martin Savidge, Barbara Starr and Alessio Vinci contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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