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NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — While the initial U.S. air assault on Iraq targeted with precision Thursday, U.S. infantry forces who call European bases home prepared to strike with blunt force.

Among the masses of American troops in Kuwait and other parts of the Middle East are about 15,000 soldiers from units stationed in Germany. Lt. Gen. William Wallace’s “Victory Corps” is leading what is expected to be a hellish ground attack.

The troops make up the largest portion of European-based assets that are involved in what the military is calling Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Thousands of U.S. forces based in Europe are part of the fight.

As soldiers reportedly move closer to the Iraqi border to unleash their massive firepower, another 13,000 troops from the 1st Armored Division are on their way to the Gulf region.

Also ready to go to the region are about 1,800 paratroopers from the Italy-based Southern European Task Force. Although a northern ground invasion option awaits the approval of Turkey, the task force remains a likely choice for air assaults into northern Iraq.

In Israel and Jordan, Patriot missile batteries from the Germany-based 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade are standing guard over the skies in anticipation Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein could lash out against his neighbors.

To the north, some 3,500 soldiers mostly from the Germany-based 1st Infantry Division and 21st Theater Support Command are continuing preparations for a possible northern attack of Iraq.

Miles away at European bases, American military personnel remained busy but things were relatively normal.

Although installations across Europe have beefed up security, the main role of the troops stationed in places such as Spain, Italy and Germany is to provide support to Middle East forces.

Most are offering logistical help, ferrying supplies to units on the ground and ships in the Mediterranean. What European Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Rick Haupt called “bullets and beans.”

The Air Force has some tanker planes providing fuel for transiting aircraft going to the Gulf, but it is unlikely many juiced-up fighter jets that bombed Baghdad.

The 100th Air Refueling Wing from RAF Mildenhall, England, now has several aircraft deployed to a classified location. A spokesman at that location said none of the wing’s KC-135 Stratotankers were involved in the attack. In addition, KC-10 air-to-air refueling planes are deployed to the Black Sea coast near Burgas, Bulgaria.

The involvement of some European-based units in the strike was not clear.

Although about a dozen B-52s are now stationed at RAF Fairford in western England, an Air force spokesman said he could not say whether the aircraft — capable of firing cruise missiles — were involved in Thursday’s attack on Iraqi leadership.

In Rota, Navy doctors, nurses and corpsman at a field hospital were ready to take on casualties if needed. The tent complex would supplement the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, the military’s largest medical center in Europe, military officials have reported.

Members of Fleet Hospital Eight, based in Bremerton, Wash., arrived in Spain Feb. 17 and put up the bulk of the hospital in just 96 hours, according to the command’s Web site.

Some personnel from the 31st Fighter Wing and 16th Air Force, both based in Aviano, are serving at bases in the region in support roles.

No aircraft from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany were used in the initial strike, Air Force Master Sgt. Sean Cobb said Thursday.

While it has been a “huge effort” to move troops from Europe to the Gulf, Haupt said European Command headquarters continues to focus on training and being prepared for potential contingencies in the 93-country area of operations.

“Despite the activity of great interest in other theaters, we still have to maintain business in our theater,’ Haupt said.

Contributing to this report: Jon Anderson in Heidelberg, Germany; Kent Harris in Aviano, Italy; Ron Jensen in the United Kingdom; and Kevin Dougherty in Darmstadt, Germany.

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