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Reinforcements expected to be ready to fight in weeks, official says

SHUAIBA PORT, Kuwait—The first major reinforcements for U.S. and British forces roared off ships Tuesday, adding a major new punch to the campaign to take Baghdad.

Soldiers began unloading the hundreds of tanks, helicopters, armored vehicles and missile launchers that make up the Army's 4th Infantry Division soon after the first ship arrived at 6 a.m.

They'll be ready for battle "in a matter of weeks," said Brig. Gen. Stephen Speakes, assistant division commander for support.

As many as 30 ships will unload here in the next month, but the port can handle only three at a time. Military planners intend to unload ships in 12 to 18 hours, about a quarter of the time it usually takes.

"Our mission is to build combat power with all deliberate speed," said Speakes, who is overseeing the delivery of 14,000 pieces of equipment.

The unit's first big force could be unloaded by the middle of the month, he said. "It's going to be up to the commanders in theater to decide when and how to use the force."

Almost 5,000 4th Infantry troops are already in Kuwait. More are arriving hourly by plane from Fort Hood, Texas, the division's home, and cramming into camps.

The division, which totals 30,000, is the Army's first "digitized division," using integrated computer systems to help guide its weaponry and movements and protect its troops.

The first ships to dock contain Task Force 1, a heavily armored, high-tech fighting force consisting of the latest versions of Apache attack helicopters, Abrams tanks and multiple rocket-launching systems.

"This is a very potent force," said Lt. Col. Allen West, who commands the Division's 2nd Battalion 20th Field Artillery. It can engage heavily armored divisions or fight street to street, like a light infantry division. Its rocket launchers can level a 1-mile grid in one strike.

The division's central Texas experience will help in Iraq, Speakes said.

"This division has trained extensively in exactly this type of combat, a hot, dusty desert where an enemy attacks your rear and disrupts your communications," he said.

The equipment appears in good shape despite two months at sea, much of it spent off Turkey's shores while that country debated, and then decided against, admitting U.S. forces intending to form a northern front against Iraq.

Many 4th Division troops were glad to be getting started.

"We are very anxious," said Pvt. Daniel Brownley, 20 of Dothan, Ala., "but we want to go out there and help our boys out."


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Jeff Wilkinson contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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