WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon, asserting that Iraq remains firmly entrenched in Kuwait, said yesterday that Iraqi military forces now exceed 530,000 troops in Kuwait and southern Iraq and include more armored fighting vehicles and artillery pieces than a week ago.
By comparison, the U.S.-led international coalition against Iraq now has 580,000 military personnel in the region, of which more than 335,000 are U.S. soldiers, Marines, sailors and air personnel, it said.
In preparation for a possible war, the pace of the U.S. military buildup has remained brisk, with the arrival of several key armor, artillery and aviation units this week, including elements of the "Big Red One" 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) from Fort Riley, Kan.
The Iraqi troop total is 20,000 higher than what was reported only one day earlier by U.S. Central Command headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but Pentagon officials said the latest figure reflected a "reassessment" of conflicting data from U.S. intelligence agencies as well as the deployment of some new forces.
Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said many of the new forces were stationed in Iraq west of the Kuwaiti border in an apparent effort to expand Iraq's line of defense against a flanking maneuver. But he said more than half of all Iraqi troops continued to occupy Kuwait.
"Over the last couple of weeks, there's been continuing work by the intelligence community to better refine that [total] number, and also a monitoring of the increase of Iraqi forces in their westward expansion of the [defensive] line," Mr. Williams said.
Although the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency have given conflicting assessments of Iraqi military strength, the latest figures were described by Mr. Williams yesterday as "a consensus."
He declined to assess the quality of the additional Iraqi forces, except to say that U.S. officials did not believe military recruiters were expanding the Republican Guards, the elite, specially trained forces whose combat readiness rivals that of front-line U.S. combat troops.
Iraq has deployed 200 more armored fighting vehicles "in the past week or so" for a total of 2,700, Mr. Williams said, as well as 300 more artillery pieces, bringing the number to 3,000.