Marine unit heads to Gulf; 3rd U.S. carrier arrives
February 5, 1998
Web posted at: 3:39 p.m. EST (2039 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A third U.S. Navy aircraft carrier
arrived in the Persian Gulf Thursday as 2,000 Marines on Navy
ships, with infantry and combat aircraft aboard, headed
toward the gulf from the Mediterranean Sea.
Pentagon officials said more U.S. warplanes also might be
sent soon to the tense region in the standoff with Iraq over
U.N. arms inspections.
The extra firepower was designed to give President Clinton
more flexibility, as he contemplates using military force to
compel Iraq to give U.N. inspectors full access to all sites
where weapons of mass destruction might be stored.
As expected, the USS Independence, the oldest ship in the
Navy, arrived in the gulf with its 50 strike aircraft plus
support planes to join the USS Nimitz and USS George
Washington. The Independence left its home base in Japan last
Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, chief of the U.S. Central
Command and commander of all American forces in the Middle
East, requested the additional forces while the
administration continued to pursue a diplomatic solution to
Zinni asked for a Marine Expeditionary Unit, a specially
tailored group of about 2,000 Marines aboard Navy ships
equipped with about two dozen attack and support helicopters,
plus amphibious assault vehicles. They include an infantry
battalion armed with artillery and other weapons.
A senior defense official said Thursday that Marines aboard a
four-ship fleet led by the amphibious assault ship USS Guam
had started toward the Gulf. The 24th Marine Expeditionary
Unit has been operating in the Mediterranean, practicing an
amphibious landing on the Spanish coast.
The Marine Expeditionary Unit was to move through the Suez
Canal into the Red Sea and then to the gulf in about 10 days.
There are 24,400 U.S. military men and women already in the
gulf region, most at sea with two aircraft combat carrier
battle groups that include 14 combat ships, 11 support
vessels and 325 warplanes.
Other defense officials said Zinni also had asked for an
additional six radar-avoiding F-117A stealth fighters to join
six of the planes already stationed in Kuwait and another
six B-52 bombers to join eight stationed on the Indian Ocean
island of Diego Garcia.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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