Camp Pendleton Marines arrive in Kuwait

The new arrivals, the first wave of more than 14,000 seaborne Marines expected to land in the region in coming weeks, include a highly trained special missions unit with experience in carrying out tactical raids, including seizure of enemy command centers.

“These are the guys who would do it,” said Capt. David Romley, a Marine spokesman. The approximately 100-man team, based at California’s Camp Pendleton, is “a small but powerful force that has the possibility to do a wide range of missions,” he said.

The Marine arrivals bring the estimated U.S. troop buildup in the region to more than 120,000, with tens of thousands of additional soldiers streaming toward the area by sea, military planes and even commercial jetliners.

The U.S. announced Wednesday that it was activating 38,649 Reserve and National Guard troops, bringing the total number of part-time soldiers now on active duty to more than 150,000. Many are heading to the anticipated war zone, while others will fill in for regular-duty soldiers called to the Gulf.

The military is reluctant to discuss the troop strength needed for a possible war with Iraq, but analysts believe the United States would like to have at least 150,000 and perhaps more than 200,000 soldiers in the region.

Defense officials suggest that almost 200,000 U.S. soldiers could be in the Gulf region by early March, alongside more than 40,000 British troops, the largest troop buildup since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The quickening pace of arrivals seems in line with President Bush’s declaration Jan. 30 that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors within “weeks rather than months” or face potential military consequences.

Kuwait’s neighbors Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, promised Wednesday to deploy more than 4,000 troops, backed by helicopters, tanks and other equipment, to help protect Kuwait in the event of war with Iraq. Iraq’s foreign minister has suggested that Kuwait, host to much of the U.S. military buildup in the region, could become a military target if the United States attacks Iraq.

In a reflection of the rising tensions in the region, the State Department said Wednesday that it is advising nonessential U.S. diplomats to leave Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.

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