WASHINGTON -- President Bush has ordered 2,400 ground troops dispatched to Kuwait over the next three weeks as a show of force against Saddam Hussein, senior administration officials said last night.
The Defense Department described the troop movement, the first fresh deployment of ground troops to Kuwait since the Persian Gulf war, as a training exercise.
It is "intended to . . . demonstrate U.S. commitment to the security and stability of the Persian Gulf region," the Pentagon said in a statement.
Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams stressed that the troop movement was not the first phase of a second ground war against Iraq and insisted that there is no plan to use ground forces if a new confrontation occurs.
The soldiers, including two mechanized infantry companies and two tank companies, will take part in exercises that were planned last February but had not been scheduled to take place until September.
Mr. Williams said that the troops were being sent early as a result of the confrontation coming from Iraq's refusal to allow United Nations in spectors into its Agriculture Ministry.
They will be joining U.S. naval and Marine forces in war games with the Kuwaiti military, scheduled to begin next week, that also were planned in February, he said.
There was no word last night of how long the ground forces might remain in Kuwait, but Mr. Williams estimated that they would stay only for a few weeks.
The dispatch of troops comes as Mr. Bush is under election-year pressure to prevent any additional gains by Mr. Hussein, who has been flouting the terms of the cease-fire agreement that ended the gulf war last year.
Mr. Bush, on a campaign trip yesterday in Riverside, Calif., said ,, that Mr. Hussein "is going to mind and match every one of those U.N. resolutions and live up to them. You believe me."
One senior administration official equated the troop deployment with the U.S. decision to send a battery of Patriot missile &L; launchers to Kuwait earlier this week.
"It underlines the sense that people are serious about the situation in the gulf," he said.
"And it comes in the wake of renewed claims by Iraq on Kuwait. This is a reminder of what we think of that claim."
Mr. Williams said that the task force will include soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, and Green Berets from Fort Campbell, Ky.
Taking part in the exercise, to be known as "Intrinsic Action," will be two mechanized infantry companies, two armored companies and their combat and service support units, along with a headquarters unit from the 1st Calvary Division at Fort Hood, the Defense Department said.
Their assignment will be to practice using military equipment that was left behind in Kuwait as part of the defense cooperation agreement signed with the United States after Iraqi troops were evicted from Kuwaiti territory last year.
"This is symbol of our commitment to Kuwait," the administration official said.
"It's primarily meant to reassure Kuwait."
The troop movement comes amid continued Iraqi defiance of the United Nations and new rhetorical threats against Kuwait.
Iraq has boycotted sessions of a U.N. boundary commission set up under the cease-fire agreement to designate the border between Iraq and Kuwait.
Lately, it has again referred to Kuwait as its 19th province.
The commission has completed drawing a land border between the two countries and is expected to submit it to the United Nations soon for formal approval.
It will complete its work sometime this fall, a U.S. official said last night.
The border is being patrolled by U.N. troops. The United States ** and its allies maintain that they have authority to take military action to enforce the resolution.
The first contingent of U.S. soldiers will be leaving next week, and it will take at least three weeks to get all the troops in place.
The ground troops will arrive in Kuwait just about the time two other sets of exercises in the region by U.S. naval and marine forces are completed.
Scheduled to begin Monday, those exercises will including amphibious field training and maneuvers that involve unloading equipment from ships.
Mr. Bush approved the details in a series of meetings last week with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.
Congressional leaders were briefed on the plans during a White House meeting with Mr. Bush on Tuesday.