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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 22:33 GMT
US sets up trial base in Qatar
US soldiers taking part in the Internal Look military exercise
Command and control procedures will be practised
The BBC's Jonathan Marcus

A long-heralded US military exercise in Qatar will soon be under way.

Code-named Internal Look, this is what the Americans call a command post exercise.

US army helicopters in the Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, 1991
Saudi Arabia has blown hot and cold over the presence of US troops
Tanks and armoured vehicles will not be churning up the desert sand.

Essentially, the US will be establishing an expeditionary headquarters in Qatar and trying to test out all of the communications and command systems that might be needed in the event of a war.

Reports indicate that some of the latest computer-based tactical command and control systems have already been despatched to Kuwait.

Political sensitivities

The aim of Internal Look will be to see how all these different levels of command work by using a computerised scenario replicating a real conflict.

Qatar is now looming heavily in US war plans, in large part a response to US concerns about political sensitivities in Saudi Arabia.

The US needs an ally in the region, a place from where they can command a full-scale onslaught against Iraq.

Saudi Arabia has blown hot and cold about allowing bases on its territory to be used.

That is why the US has largely replicated a hi-tech command centre that already exists in Saudi Arabia at the al-Udeid air base in Qatar.

Enhancements

Its job would be to command the air war against Saddam Hussein's regime.

Tommy Franks
Centcom commander Franks will move to Qatar with his team

The facilities at the base have been significantly enhanced - building work was still going on when I visited it a few weeks ago.

It has one of the longest runways in the region and is already being used by giant US tanker aircraft, which are supporting combat operations over Afghanistan.

There is also a large pre-positioning depot in Qatar at As Sayliyah, which contains large quantities of heavy equipment - sufficient for an armoured brigade and a divisional headquarters - though much of this may have been transported to Kuwait.

The warehouses at As Sayliyah are humidity and temperature controlled, and could well be used to house the US Central Command (Centcom) headquarters.

Real war beckons?

For the computer-driven exercise General Tommy Franks - the Centcom commander - will move to Qatar with his team.

This is all part of a much wider US build-up. The aim is not so much to have huge number of troops in the region, but to prepare all of the necessary infrastructure and logistical support.

If there is to be a conflict, then US forces could surge into the region at very short notice.

It might take as little as four weeks for the US to be ready to attack Iraq once all the necessary preparations have been made.

So the Centcom deployment and Operation Internal Look are not in themselves a signal that conflict is imminent.

US sources say that the deployment will end towards the middle of December and many of the personnel may fly home.

Just how much actually remains in Qatar will depend upon the wider diplomatic climate.

But having tested out the headquarters under simulated wartime conditions, it will not take long to activate it again if a real war beckons.


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29 Oct 02 | Americas
16 Sep 02 | Middle East
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