- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

The U.S. military is moving command elements from U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., to a burgeoning air base in the Persian Gulf for a planned exercise of communications capability in time of war, possibly against Iraq.
An administration source said the shift of assets to the refurbished al-Udeid air base in the small Gulf nation of Qatar is a test to see whether the facility can become a forward command center in event of a war.
This source said that if America, Britain and other allies go to war against Iraq, al-Udeid will likely be the overall command center, not the headquarters in Florida.
Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Klee, a Central Command spokesman, said the shift of up to 600 personnel to Qatar will take place in November in a biannual exercise, "Internal Look 03." It tests the ability of Central Command to communicate with commanders around the globe.
Cmdr. Klee said it had been planned since 2000. He declined to say whether the exercise would take place at al-Udeid, but other sources identified the base as the site.
"It's a way for us to work on maintaining seamless conductivity when we're deployed forward," Cmdr. Klee said.
U.S. Central Command ran the first Gulf war, Operation Desert Storm, from the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh. Then, Saudi Arabia was threatened by Iraqi troops who had quickly conquered and occupied neighboring Kuwait.
But since 1991, the Saudi royal family, worried about anti-Western sentiment among ardent followers of Islam, has placed restrictions on the U.S. military.
Riyadh allows its large Prince Sultan air base to be used as a launch pad for allied jets enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. But it did not allow strike aircraft to use the base for more extensive bombings north of the no-fly zone, including the four-day Desert Fox assault ordered by President Clinton in 1998.
In the ongoing operation in Afghanistan, the Saudi kingdom again limited the use of Prince Sultan. No strike aircraft could use the base for bombing runs. But the Air Force component of Central Command did man the base's sophisticated air combat command center to coordinate strikes over Afghanistan.
The limits have prompted the Bush administration to look for alternatives to Prince Sultan. They found it in al-Udeid in Qatar, a staunch Gulf ally of the United States. Qatar has allowed U.S. strike planes to use al-Udeid in the past. This week, the ruling al Thani family paid for network TV ads in this Islamic country pledging support for the war on terrorism.
A senior military officer said the new construction at al-Udeid sends two messages one to the Saudis and one to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"The Bush team is hellbent to show the Saudis we have alternatives," the source said. "This also shows Saddam we are serious."
The Saudi government publicly opposes a strike against Iraq to depose Saddam.
Government sources say President Bush has made up his mind that the only way to keep Saddam from his goal of building nuclear weapons is to order a military strike to oust him from power.
The planned exercise in Qatar comes as Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who heads Central Command, is stepping up his war planning for Iraq. He briefed the Joints Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday on his latest ideas.
Earlier this year, Gen. Franks drew up a plan that called for a total deployment of 200,000 to 250,000 soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen. Since then, the draft has been amended, with input from the chiefs and senior civilian policy-makers at the Pentagon.
In recent weeks, the Army has moved prepositioned tanks and armored vehicles into Kuwait, the likely starting site for any ground invasion. The Army also has increased, to about 5,000, the number of soldiers training in the Kuwait desert.
The Army says both moves are linked to the war in Afghanistan and deterring Saddam from attack.
Any final plan is expected to include massive, quick air strikes, relying heavily on B-2 stealth bombers; a ground invasion force; special operations troops who would help rebel groups and also conduct highly dangerous clandestine missions; and a psychological-warfare campaign to try to turn the Iraqi army against Saddam.

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