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U.S. to reinforce military power for Afghan campaign

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is preparing to beef up its troops and firepower for use in the military campaign in Afghanistan.

Pentagon sources told CNN that three U.S. Air Force AC-130H "Spectre" gunships are being sent to a Uzbekistan base to cut the time it takes for the United States to attack targets in northern Afghanistan.

Equipped with a side-firing 105-mm howitzer and a 40-mm cannon, the Special Operations planes have been used on ground targets in Afghanistan, including one attack that leveled a small village believed to be an al Qaeda encampment.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters on Wednesday while traveling to Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, said the military wants to put the gunships closer to northern Afghanistan to support anti-Taliban forces in their fight for Konduz.

"It would be helpful for us to have AC-130s up north, particularly when you have a situation like Konduz because that particular weapons system and platform can put out an enormous amount of ordnance with a great deal of precision," he said.

The United States has other AC-130s based in Oman in the Persian Gulf, but the deployment to Uzbekistan required permission of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Rumsfeld declined to say whether Karimov has given permission to base them in Uzbekistan.

Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command and commander of the Afghan campaign, is in Uzbekistan for talks with Karimov.

In addition, as many as 1,600 Marines on standby off the Pakistani coast could be called in, likely for reconnaissance missions, sources said. There are more than 4,000 Marines from two Marine Expeditionary Units offshore. The combat element of an MEU is 1,150 so more than 2,000 could be sent in for a mission.

Marine forces 'Special Operations capable'

One Marine Expeditionary Unit typically includes about 2,200 personnel. The infantry battalion uses amphibious assault and light-armored vehicles, and the aviation unit employs helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft such as Harrier jets. Harrier jets have participated in some of the U.S. airstrikes so far.

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While not technically Special Operations troops, Marines advertise these units as "Special Operations capable."

These units generally have more equipment, logistical and technical support, weaponry and Marines than their conventional counterparts, giving them more firepower.

Speaking at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no decision has been made on using the Marine forces.

"Marines are very good at fighting," Pace said. "And if Gen. Franks wants fighters on the ground and he puts Marines in, he'll have what he wants."

The two Marine units in the Arabian Sea are the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit based on the USS Peleliu and its support ships, and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit based on the USS Bataan

The USS Peleliu is part of the carrier battle group attached to the USS Carl Vinson, while the USS Bataan is part of the USS Theodore Roosevelt's carrier battle group.

Deployment of Canadian troops undecided

It remains unclear when Canadian troops might be sent into Afghanistan, Canadian Defense Minister Art Eggleton said Tuesday after meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Eggleton said the 1,000 Canadian troops awaiting deployment -- a light infantry unit from the 3rd Infantry Division that specializes in logistics, communication and engineering -- are trained for clearing areas for humanitarian aid, not for combat. Once deployed, the Canadian troops might be asked to clear mines that could be obstacles to moving humanitarian supplies, he said.

Canada also has Special Operations troops known as Joint Task Force Two, which reportedly have undergone Arctic training.

"They're well-equipped, they're well-prepared to go in and be part of the mission," Eggleton said in response to a question on whether those troops might be deployed for action in snowy Afghan mountain regions. "And that is something that is being worked on. It's our policy, however, not to talk about our special forces."

Canada has four ships in the Arabian Sea with plans to add two more.

CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and CNN Producer Brad Wright contributed to this report.


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