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Military Forces Continue Taking Tactical Positions in Persian Gulf

By Esther Schrader

The U.S. Army began moving ground troops to within striking distance of Afghanistan Thursday as a massive deployment of warplanes, ships, equipment and personnel moved into its second day. Army Secretary Thomas E. White, the Army’s top civilian official, said the Army is “ready to conduct sustained land combat operations” in the Persian Gulf region. He said the deployment of special operations forces, light infantry and other troops was only the first step in a broader military campaign that will unfold in coming weeks. American casualties, he said, are likely. “This is not a police activity. We have treated (combating terrorism) as a police activity in the past,” White said. “This is war. In the conduct of this campaign, there will most likely be casualties. That is the nature of war.”

In warning that casualties are to be expected in the campaign, military analysts and former Pentagon officials said the Bush administration is trying to keep its options open. “In the recent past, it was felt that surgical strikes with precision-guided munitions could be effective, and that you could take ground troops off the table as an option,” said former Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera.

The most likely strategy is the use of the elite commando teams known as Special Forces, trained, among other things, to drop quietly behind enemy lines to plant surveillance instruments and wreak havoc with an enemy’s communications capabilities. Special operations teams from the Army and the Air Force have been ordered to deploy to the Persian Gulf region, senior defense officials said. The United States has 46,000 special operations forces trained to carry out missions on land, sea and air. Earlier this week, the Air Force was ordered to send 100 to 130 planes to the Persian Gulf area, a senior defense official said Thursday. Three aircraft carrier battle groups are now either in the region or steaming toward it.