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Army units on standby for Persian Gulf

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A U.S. Army tank kicks up sand during a training exercise in the north Kuwait desert.

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FORT BENNING, Georgia (CNN) -- U.S. Army tank and mechanized infantry units have been told they are going to the Persian Gulf, officials said Saturday.

Soldiers from some units of the 3rd Infantry Division stationed at Fort Stewart and Fort Benning, Georgia, have received their deployment orders, although no departure date has been disclosed.

"We were glad we got this deployment order after Christmas and got the opportunity to stay home with our families," said Lt. Col. Geoff Ward, executive officer of the 3rd Brigade at Fort Benning.

The brigade's roughly 5,000 soldiers are equipped with M1A1 Abrams heavy tanks, self-propelled artillery and Bradley armored troop carriers.

The unit conducted training exercises in Kuwait, which borders Iraq, in October. Much of its equipment is already in position in the Persian Gulf, with more on the way or scheduled to be shipped overseas.

"This is a well-trained brigade. This is what we all raised our right hands and came into the military to do, and we just do what our country asks us to do," Ward said.

The United States has accused Iraq of continuing to pursue chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in violation of U.N. resolutions that ended the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Iraq has denied the accusation, and U.N. weapons inspectors are in Baghdad to determine whether it has complied.

The Associated Press reported the military personnel are being ordered to stand ready for deployment to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain, among other locations, reinforcing the 50,000 U.S. military personnel already in the Gulf region.

If Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein refuses "to disclose and destroy his arsenal of weapons," President Bush said Saturday, "the United States will lead a coalition to disarm the Iraqi regime and free the Iraqi people."

The U.S. buildup has picked up speed since Iraq filed a nearly 12,000-page declaration denying it maintains any prohibited weapons programs -- a declaration the Bush administration dismissed as false.

The Navy has ordered two aircraft carriers -- the USS George Washington, which returned home to Norfolk, Virginia, on December 20, and a second carrier to be determined later -- to prepare to sail to the Persian Gulf after the first of the year. (Full story)

The carrier USS Kitty Hawk is at its port in Yokosuka, Japan. The USS Abraham Lincoln is on a port call at Perth, Australia, on its way to its home port near Seattle, Washington.

Several Marine Corps amphibious ships have received similar prepare-to-deploy orders, and the hospital ship USNS Comfort has received an activation order at its port in Baltimore.

The Comfort could begin sailing for the Persian Gulf in the next few days with its crew of civil mariners and military members. The medical team would be flown to the ship at a later date.

The carrier USS Harry Truman and its accompanying battle group are in the Mediterranean Sea, while the USS Constellation battle group is in the Persian Gulf.

And the Air Force has issued tasking orders to elements of several wings, including F-15 fighters and fighter-bombers based in Virginia and North Carolina, B-1 bombers from South Dakota and a Georgia-based search-and-rescue unit.

CNN Correspondent Martin Savidge contributed to this report.



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