KUWAIT CITY -- About 2,000 Marines came ashore in Kuwait on Wednesday, the latest arrivals in a massive American military buildup ahead of a possible strike on Iraq.
The Marines brought sophisticated weapons and aircraft, including jets that take off and land vertically and helicopters that can lift armored vehicles weighing 14 tons.
Also arriving was a 100-member elite Marine unit called the Maritime Special Purpose Force, trained in demolitions, sniper fire and in breaching the cabins of enemy ships.
The Marines are members of the San Diego-based 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and will join thousands already on the ground in this oil-rich emirate. About half of the estimated 113,000 U.S. troops dispatched to the Gulf ahead of a possible Iraq war are in Kuwait, with tens of thousands more expected.
Also Wednesday, U.S. commanders in Kuwait completed an exercise to test communications systems in the event of war and the ability to simultaneously direct separate weapons systems.
Marine spokesman Capt. David Romley called the four-day exercise "very successful."
The Marines arrived in three ships -- the USS Tarawa, the USS Duluth and the USS Rushmore.
It will take two or three days to unload the equipment, which includes light armored vehicles, amphibious assault vehicles, M1A1 tanks and 29 aircraft, including the vertical takeoff Harrier Jump jets and CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters, which can lift large cargoes.
They also brought weapons systems including Javelin missiles -- the Marines' newest anti-tank missiles. Marines can fire them from inside buildings "without having to worry about back blast area," the wide zone behind the traditional weapons that must be kept clear, Romley said.
"That becomes very important in an urban environment," Romley said. Some military analysts have speculated Saddam would try to take the war to Iraqi cities if the U.S. attacked.
The arriving Marines left California on Jan. 6. Romley said they have a wide range of capabilities from humanitarian aid to "major theater war."
Some of the Marines came ashore aboard amphibious vessels that can climb 6-foot walls and carry 70 tons of equipment.
Sgt. Ryan Thompson, 22, of Anchorage, Alaska, who appeared in the video footage, said the Marines have "pretty much everything you need to do any kind of mission you like."