WASHINGTON – The Army's oldest armored division, "Old Ironsides," got orders Tuesday to head for the Persian Gulf as the total of U.S. land, sea and air forces arrayed against Iraq or preparing to go neared 300,000.
The commander who would lead the war, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, met at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and was to consult with President Bush at the White House on Wednesday. Last week Franks reviewed his war plan with commanders at his Gulf command post.
The pace of troop movements and high-level consultations suggested the military was close to ready for the opening of what would be a multidirectional assault to disarm and depose Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
In addition to the U.S. troops based in Kuwait and every other country on the Arabian Peninsula except Yemen, there are five aircraft carrier battle groups nearby, each with about 50 strike aircraft aboard and including 30 to 40 vessels armed with Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles.
A sixth carrier, the USS Nimitz, is heading to the Gulf to relieve the USS Abraham Lincoln.
Still to be resolved was the important question of whether Turkey would allow its territory to be used for tens of thousands of U.S. ground forces to open a northern front against Iraq. Three dozen ships carrying weaponry and equipment for the Army's 4th Infantry Division, which would spearhead the attack from Turkey, are waiting in the Mediterranean for a Turkey decision.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a war against Iraq would be won even without Turkey's help, but he indicated he remained hopeful Turkey would change its mind.
"It will be much more difficult" to execute the war plan without Turkish bases, "and we prefer to have Turkey with us," Myers said in an interview at the Pentagon with WMAL radio's "Chris Core Show." He said U.S. commanders have multiple backup plans if Turkey refuses.
Speaking on the same show, Rumsfeld said that of the many things that could go wrong for the United States in a war against Iraq, the one that worries him most is the "very sizable risk" that Saddam would use chemical or biological weapons against U.S. troops or neighboring countries.
In Wiesbaden, Germany, home of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division, known as "Old Ironsides," officials said the unit received orders Tuesday to deploy to the Central Command region. No dates were released.
Portions of another Germany-based Army unit, the 1st Infantry Division, already are in Turkey to help receive and move forward the weaponry and equipment of the 4th Infantry Division. But that is on hold pending a final decision by the Turkish government on hosting U.S. forces.
The Army also received orders this week to deploy the 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas. The 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Fort Polk, La., also received deployment orders. Together, the 1st Armored, 1st Cavalry and 2nd Armored Cavalry will deploy about 60,000 troops, officials said.
That is in addition to the approximately 230,000 U.S. air, land and sea forces already on Iraq's periphery. Those include about 65,000 Marines afloat and in Kuwait, which would be the main launching pad for any ground assault into southern Iraq.
The main Army combat unit in Kuwait is the 3rd Infantry Division, although it is being joined by about 20,000 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division this week. There also are elements of the 82nd Airborne Division in Kuwait.
If the 4th Infantry Division, whose soldiers are still at their home base at Fort Hood, Texas, is unable to position itself in Turkey it may be redirected to Kuwait. A decision is expected within days.
The Air Force has F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers, as well as F-117A stealth fighter-bombers, at Al Udeid air base in Qatar, as well as F-15s, F-16s and a wide variety of surveillance and other support planes at Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia. The Air Force also has more than 200 aircraft at two air bases in Kuwait, and other planes in Oman, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
The Navy has two aircraft carriers in the eastern Mediterranean -- the USS Harry S. Truman and the USS Theodore Roosevelt -- and three in the Gulf -- the USS Abraham Lincoln, the USS Constellation and the USS Kitty Hawk.