WASHINGTON--The U.S. buildup to a fighting force of 430,000 in the Persian Gulf will take up to two months, officials said yesterday as details began emerging on president Bush's plans for matching Iraq soldier for soldier across the Kuwait border.
Bush was out of the public eye at Camp David, Md, but his defense secretary underscored the president's comments by emphasizing the U.S. forces' ability to attack and by making clear their stay in the Middle East could be lengthy.
In addition to sending 200,000 fresh American troops to the gulf from Germany and the U.S., Bush's decision means an abrupt end to plans for rotating thousands already there back home for a reprieve.
Like Bush, Cheney stressed that the new buildup was meant as a signal to Saddam Hussein that the U.S. was "preparing the forces necessary to undertake offensive operations, should that become necessary" to get Iraq out of Kuwait.
The Pentagon estimates that Iraq has about 430,000 troops in and around Kuwait.
Cheney's remarks, again underlining Bush's statement, highlighted a fundamental shift in stated U.S. military goals in the gulf.
The additional forces that Bush ordered to the gulf Thursday will give the United States the clear offensive potential it may lack now.
Asked by a reporter whether the 230,000 U.S. forces now in the gulf and those soon to be en route will be there for the duration of the crisis, Cheney responded, "That's correct."
The deployment of additional troops to the gulf will take about two months, and will involve the shipment of a large amount of military equipment, including a wide variety of the Pentagon's most sophisticated weaponry.
On the list are at least 1,000 M1-A1 main battle tanks, hundreds of Bradley Fighting Vehicles, a large number of Apache attack helicopters, Hellfire tank-killing missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles aboard ships.
In addition, the Navy said yesterday it was sending three aircraft carriers--the USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS America and USS Ranger--to the gulf area. That would increase to six the number of U.S. carriers there. The United States has 14 carriers, of which 12 are ready to be deployed.
Cheney, in a speech to the Conservative Leadership Conference, put more emphasis on the role of oil in the gulf crisis than had been heard from the administration in recent weeks. He said that by taking over Kuwait, Iraq had gained control of one-fifth of the world's known oil reserves, and that its stake would have been far higher if Saddam had captured the Saudi oil fields, too.
"That's not just marketplace clout; it's a strategic and political sledgehammer," he said. "There is no way the civilized world is about to give Saddam Hussein that kind of power over the very lifeline of the world's economy."
Rep. Lee Hamilton, (D-Ind.) said Bush seemed to have broad but "very thin" support from the American people. "There's a great deal of uneasiness about all of this," he said. "They do not want American casualties. They feel that very, very strongly."
To step up the pressure of Saddam, Bush ordered the equivalent of 24 heavy armored divisions to Saudi Arabia from U.S. Army bases in Germany, the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) from Fort Riley, Kan., and thousands of combat service personnel.
No official count of the additional forces has been provided by the pentagon, but military sources speak- ing on condition of anonymity said the totalincluded large numbers of Navy and Marine Corpspersonnel.
Cheney said yesterday that the Army contingentbeing sent from Germany represented one-half ofall U.S. ground forces in Europe. That would meanat least 100,000 forces are going from Germany