View Full Version : Pentagon Shifts Battle Staff

09-13-02, 10:41 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Pentagon ( news - web sites)'s decision to move the core of Gen. Tommy Franks' battle staff from his Central Command headquarters in Florida to a remote air base in the central Persian Gulf is the latest sign the military is laying the early groundwork for possible war against Iraq.

The new location for the command staff the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar is significant because the United States has been building a sophisticated air operations center there as an alternative to one in Saudi Arabia.

If Saudi Arabia were to prohibit the United States from using its command post to coordinate attacks on Iraq, the facilities at Qatar's al-Udeid air base could serve the same purpose. There is some question, however, about the Qatari government's willingness to play that role.

In recent months Qatar has emerged as among the most accommodating Gulf allies for U.S. military forces in the global war against terrorism, but it has not publicly supported military action against Iraq.

Qatar's foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, said in Washington on Thursday that a war in Iraq would destabilize the entire Middle East. He said the Bush administration had not yet asked for permission to use al-Udeid air base to launch strikes against Iraq.

"If they ask us, we will consider it carefully," he said. The minister is scheduled to meet with senior officials, possibly including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, at the Pentagon on Friday.

Officials at Central Command, the war-fighting headquarters responsible for operations in the Gulf and Central Asia, said the movement of 600 members of its battle staff to Qatar is simply a one-week exercise.

But other officials said the intention is to establish a forward headquarters in the Gulf not only to exercise command procedures but to be in position to run a war against Iraq if President Bush ( news - web sites) gives the go-ahead.

In a speech to the United Nations ( news - web sites) General Assembly on Thursday, Bush raised the specter of war by imploring world leaders to confront the "grave and gathering danger" of President Saddam Hussein ( news - web sites)'s Iraq or stand aside as the United States acts to disarm his military and remove him from power.

"If Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately and decisively to hold Iraq to account," Bush said.

Defense officials said Franks will go to al-Udeid from his Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., for at least part of the exercise, which is scheduled for November. He might stay much longer; he has recommended to his superiors that his headquarters move permanently to the Gulf.

Central Command is tightlipped about the particulars of the exercise, code-named Internal Look '03. A command spokesman, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nick Balice, declined to disclose the dates of the exercise or describe in more detail the war scenario that will be simulated during the exercise.

As Bush contemplates a plan for removing Saddam from power, the Pentagon has assembled a powerful array of forces within striking distance of Iraq. These include:

_ At least 5,000 Army soldiers at Camp Doha, a desert base in Kuwait a little more than 20 miles from the Iraqi border. Elements of the Army Forces Central Command headquarters staff is there, too, although the major of that staff returned to its permanent base at Fort McPherson, Ga., in July.

_ A few thousand Air Force personnel with a variety of strike and support aircraft at Kuwait's Al Jabar air base. Some of the aircraft are used to patrol a "no fly" zone over southern Iraq.

_ About 5,000 U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, mostly at Prince Sultan air base south of Riyadh.

_ The Marine Corps component of Central Command is based in Bahrain, just north of Qatar.

_ A U.S. aircraft carrier battle group, with about 5,000 sailors and marines, is on patrol in the Gulf. The Navy's 5th Fleet the naval component of Central Command is permanently based in Bahrain.

_ Other Air Force units are stationed in other Gulf nations, including Oman and the United Arab Emirates.