Military officials told wire services that the USS Kitty Hawk, which has been operating in the western Pacific region, would leave in the next few days to join the four U.S. and one British carrier already in the area.
Three of the U.S. carriers are already within striking range of Iraq — the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Constellation in the Gulf, and the USS Harry S. Truman in the Mediterranean Sea. A fourth, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, set sail from the western Atlantic for the region Tuesday.
The decision comes a day after the Pentagon announced it would deploy portions of the 101st Airborne Division into the Central Command region, the command charged with the Middle East and Gulf regions.
The 101st, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, will “support possible future operations in the global war on terrorism,” according to a statement released Thursday. The military did not announce how many of the division’s 20,000 troops and 270 helicopters would be deployed or where they were being sent.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the deployments were part of an international effort to deal with Iraq.
“This is a critical time,” Rumsfeld told reporters. “Anyone who looks at what’s taking place can see that momentum is building with respect to efforts to get Iraq to disarm.”
As forces continue to flow into Kuwait, where more than half of the U.S. troops are based, and elsewhere, Secretary Rumsfeld told reporters Friday he did not see a potential military action in Iraq dragging on for months.
He made the comments while discussing the call-up of nearly 10 percent of the nation’s 1.2 million reservists, the largest such mobilization since the Gulf War.
“It is highly unlikely that we would go to a full mobilization [of reservists],” he told hundreds of U.S. military personnel gathered at the U.S. Aviano airbase in northern Italy.
Rumsfeld added that although no final decision about war had been made, he doubted it would be a long conflict if it came to pass.
“It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months,” he said.
Despite the continued buildup that will continue for weeks, Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of U.S. forces during the 1991 Gulf War, said there were already enough U.S. forces in the region to begin a military action against Iraq.
“The war could start tomorrow because we have an overwhelming buildup of air power,” Schwarzkopf told the NBC program Today.
The military moves continued as President Bush urged the United Nations Security Council to “make up its mind” on the Iraq issue.
“If the Security Council were to allow a dictator to lie and deceive, the Security Council will be weak,” Mr. Bush said.
The U.N.’s lead weapons inspectors will travel to Iraq this weekend, and will discuss the state of the inspections with the Security Council on Feb. 14.