WASHINGTON – The U.S. has ordered an infantry division from Georgia to prepare to ship to the Persian Gulf, Fox News has learned.
The troops, from the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), received prepare-to-deploy orders earlier this week, Army officials said. A defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed they were going to the Persian Gulf region as a part of the U.S. military's buildup of forces there.
It is the largest single ground force sent to the region since the Bush administration indicated its willingness to go to war against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein more than a year ago.
The division's 2nd Brigade -- several thousand soldiers based at Fort Stewart, Ga. -- is already in Kuwait on a regular troop rotation, officials said.
The division's 1st and 3rd Brigades, from Fort Stewart and Fort Benning, Ga., respectively, and its aviation brigade, from Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, Ga., will begin moving to the region in the coming weeks. Officials declined to provide their precise destination. All told, between 15,000 and 17,000 soldiers from the division will go to the region, officials said.
The division includes a mix of tanks, attack helicopters and highly mobile infantry.
Last week, defense officials said the Pentagon ordered thousands of personnel, scores of combat aircraft and two aircraft carrier battle groups to prepare to go to Persian Gulf region.
Separately Tuesday, Navy officials said the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier will stay on deployment instead of returning to its homeport in Everett, Wash., next month as planned.
The nuclear-powered Lincoln and its battle group will remain deployed indefinitely in the Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf and "will be available as required to meet national security requirements," said Cmdr. Karen Sellers, a public affairs officer for the Navy.
The Lincoln left Puget Sound in July for a sixth-month deployment and was in Perth, Australia, for the Christmas holiday.
Defense officials said last week the Abraham Lincoln battle group was a candidate to be one of the two carrier battle groups the Navy was initially to provide for the war effort. The other will be the USS George Washington battle group. That carrier is based in Norfolk, Va.
Fox News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.