US establishes high-tech military command center in Gulf
WASHINGTON (AFP) Dec 01, 2002
The United States has deployed in the Gulf state of Qatar a state-of-the-art command center that could be used to direct large-scale military operations throughout the Gulf region, a US defense official said Saturday.

The deployment, officially in preparation for a military exercise, comes as the administration of President George W. Bush is considering using force against Iraq if it refuses to give up its chemical and biological weapons, long-range means to deliver them as well as nuclear technology.

"There are roughly 28 shelters, and it consists of all the command-and-control equipment that allows to basically establish a forward-based headquarters," Central Command spokesman Lieutenant Commander Nick Balice told AFP.

The hardware was developed and tested earlier this year in Tampa, Florida, where the Central Command is based, and recently shipped to As Sayliyah military base in Qatar where the war game dubbed Internal Look will be launched early next month, according to Balice.

As many as 1,000 US military personnel, including top war planners, are being deployed to Qatar in advance of the exercise, in which Central Command head General Tommy Franks and the commanders of the Navy, Army and Marine Corps units in the region will take part.

The game will begin at an undisclosed date in early December and will last 7-10 days. Its scenario remains secret.

It has not been decided what will happen to the command center after the war games are over, the spokesman said.

According to administration officials, General Franks is in charge of drafting plans for a possible US military intervention in Iraq that could be used, if Bush finds Baghdad in violation of its international disarmament obligations.

But Balice denied Internal Look had anything to do with these plans.

"This particular exercise, we began planning for roughly a year and a half ago," he said. "It just so happens to coincide with current events."

The denial notwithstanding, the name Internal Look has a familiar ring to those who monitored the events leading up to the 1991 Gulf War, in which an international force led by the United States ejected Iraqi troops from occupied Kuwait.

A command exercise under the same name was run by then-Central Command head General Norman Schwarzkopf in July 1990 to rehearse a massive US troop buildup in Saudi Arabia to defend the kingdom against an Iraqi invasion.

The deployment of a new US headquarters to Qatar marks a new step in the buildup of US forces in the Gulf nation, which is gathering pace at As Sayliyah as well as al-Udeid air base, according to defense officials.

More than 4,000 US military personnel are already working in the country, mostly at al-Udeid, which has a 4,500-meter-long (15,000 feet) runway and new hardened shelters to accommodate up to 80 aircraft.

Balice acknowledged the US military was also prepositioning equipment in the region as part the Central Command's effort "to be prepared for any contingency that could arise" but refused to give any specifics.

However, The New York Times said the United States had spent more than 100 million dollars to build more than 20 climate-controlled warehouses at As Sayliyah, warehouses storing hundreds of tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and other hardware -- enough to equip a US Army brigade.