Allies move to increase forces lined up to contain Saddam

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - President Clinton yesterday put US troops on alert for possible duty in Kuwait and sent the aircraft carrier George Washington towards the Red Sea in response to the Iraqi build-up of troops near Kuwait.

A senior defense official would say only that 'less than 15,000' US Army and Marine troops had been alerted for quick movement from the United States, but that no decision had been made to deploy them to Kuwait.

The official said the US moves came after Iraq moved a division of 10,000 elite Republican Guard troops near the Kuwait border to join about 40,000 other Iraqi troops already stationed in the area.

He said elements of another Iraqi division were also on the move elsewhere in Iraq but it was not clear whether they were heading for the Kuwait border.

US officials said at the United Nations, however, that Iraq could soon have nearly 60,000 troops, equipped with 700 T-72 tanks and 900 armoured personnel carriers, near Kuwait.

NBC News reported last night that the presence of the George Washington and its more than 60 attack and other jets could be crucial if hostilities broke out.

The US defence official cautioned that it was not clear yet whether Iraq was rotating troops in southern Iraq or building up a threatening force.

The official said the George Washington was heading for the Red Sea off Iraq from the Adriatic and that four US warships with a force of 2,000 Marines will also be moved from the southern Gulf into the northern Gulf off Kuwait within a day or so.

Up to 12 fully loaded US military cargo ships in the Indian Ocean and Pacific have been told to head for Kuwait or stand by for orders, he added. 'We are not overreacting in any way,' the official said. The US military was increasing its intelligence and reconnaissance abilities in the area and would keep close watch over the Iraqi force during the next 48 hours.

A full Iraqi division of some 10,000 troops from the elite Republic Guard had joined up with several other divisions, bringing Iraqi forces in southern Iraq to the range of 40,000 to 50,000, the official said.

Other defense officials said that US Army troops stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, were among those put on alert by the Pentagon for possible transfer to Kuwait to join up with military equipment in Kuwait or were heading there from the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

But the officials said there were no plans to send additional US warplanes to join the more than 50 already on duty near Iraq. Western warplanes based in Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been policing 'no fly' zones over northern and southern Iraq since the Gulf war ended.

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