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100,000 troops may head to gulf

The United States will send more troops _ perhaps as many as 100,000 _ to join its 210,000 military personnel already deployed in Saudi Arabia, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said Thursday. The additional deployment of large numbers of troops would transform the American ground force in Saudi Arabia from a largely defensive military to one better suited for offensive action.

In addition to the 210,000 Americans now in the gulf, another 100,000 troops, including Saudis, Egyptians, Europeans and others, are in the region, sent there since the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

U.S. officials say Iraqi troops in Kuwait and southern Iraq have swelled from 100,000 on Aug. 2 to about 450,000 now. Iraq is constructing formidable defensive lines along the Kuwait-Saudi border, U.S. officials say.

Cheney said the American buildup would not signal a U.S. intent to attack Iraq. But he and other U.S. officials have refused to rule out an attack. And a growing number of leaders say President Saddam Hussein of Iraq appears not to be interested in a negotiated solution to the gulf crisis and is preparing for a U.S.-led attack on his army.

CIA Director William Webster gave a gloomy assessment of chances of peacefully settling the crisis and raised the possibility of a military attack on Iraqi forces.

An Arab diplomat said Hussein, believing that U.S. air forces had targeted him and members of his family, has changed his daily routine and movements.

In the absence of hostilities, both sides in the crisis have intensified their fight for diplomatic advantage. Iraq is seeking to undermine the international coalition by releasing small groups of foreign hostages as goodwill gestures, and the United States is struggling to hold it together, according to diplomats and officials.

Nine former American hostages in Iraq returned home to the United States on Thursday night, some of them leaving behind friends and family trapped in Iraq.

One of them, Saint Leo College student John Charlton, said: "I feel great, but my father's still in Baghdad."

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