Washington The United States is upgrading its ability to spearhead a war in the Persian Gulf from countries other than Saudi Arabia, the general who would command any attack against Iraq said Friday.
Still, the Arab world's recent showing of support for Iraq has put new pressure on President Bush to find a nonmilitary way to deal with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
U.S. forces have been increased in recent months in Kuwait, the tiny country bordering Iraq, U.S. defense officials disclosed Friday, and additional ground troops could be on the way.
That provides both valuable training and "a hedge against miscalculation," Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of U.S. Central Command, said at a Pentagon briefing in a clear reference to Iraq.
Adding the U.S. forces sends Iraq a warning not to begin any aggressive actions against its neighbors while the U.S. military is focused on Afghanistan, said one defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Franks denied the United States was positioning troops or equipment for possible military action against Iraq. He has received no order to plan for war, he said.
But the general made clear he's working to ensure the United States could run a war in the Gulf, even if allies such as Saudi Arabia refused to allow operations on their soil.
"Let me put it this way. We are increasing or improving our command and control capacity in all of my region," Franks said.
Asked whether equipment was being moved from Saudi Arabia to a Qatar base, Franks said: "I would not be at all surprised if we are changing the location of some of the assets that we have. We want to be sure that we have redundant communications inside the region."
The general said he has no plans to move a key U.S. air operations command center, now in Saudi Arabia. American officials have used it to operate the air war over Afghanistan and would, in ideal circumstances, run any air war over Iraq from there, military analysts say.
But Franks added: "That does not say that I don't have plans to replicate it someplace."
The Bush administration accuses Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction and sponsoring terrorists, and says options are being considered ranging from diplomatic efforts to push Saddam to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors to possible military action.