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US reinforcements will be slow to arrive

A central question of the war remains how long it might take to get more ground forces on the ground in Iraq to attack Baghdad and secure the rest of the country.

The Pentagon maintains more than 100,000 additional ground troops will be in the region within a month. And, even without reinforcements, Defense Department officials say the US already has sufficient forces on the ground.

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But analysts say the US needs reinforcements to build up what's now a razor-thin margin of error. Military sealift schedules indicate that most of those reinforcements won't be available until the end of the month at the earliest. To many former military commanders, that argues for delaying a final assault on Baghdad.

"It would take many more losses, much more time and it would be exhausting for the soldiers," says retired Army Gen. Edward Atkeson, referring to a push toward Baghdad by the units currently in place.

Those ground forces will soon get a boost from approximately 16,000 troops of the 4th Infantry Division, now landing at Gulf air bases and matching up with equipment offloading from ships.

The tank-heavy division could be used to secure vast areas behind a lead assault. But other alerted units will not arrive until the Pentagon's outer window. "Most of the new movement is heavy Army units, and that will be quite a test," says former Marine Gen. Thomas Wilkerson.

• Five cargo ships with equipment for the 3rd Armored Cavalry regiment will not reach the Gulf until mid-April. Two other ships are still loading in Texas, says the Military Sealift Command. It will take many more days to offload that gear and get the forces in place to help secure the rear or block bypassed cities.

• Ships to carry heavy equipment for the 2nd Armored Cavalry Division, based at Ft. Polk La, haven't begun loading yet.

• The First Armored Division, based in Germany, has not begun transporting its thousands of vehicles for deployment via the ports of Antwerp and Charleston, S.C. It will take those ships about three weeks to reach the Gulf via the Suez Canal. Two other heavy divisions - the First Armored and First Cavalry - have not even been assigned ships yet.