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Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 15:13 GMT
US nerve centre readies for war
US military wargamers in Qatar
US military conducted computer war games at the base

On the dusty outskirts of Doha, a complex of warehouses has become the hub of America's military operation in the Gulf.

There is intense activity at the high security As Sayliyah base, the new Central Command headquarters from where any war against Iraq will be masterminded.

At the gate, guards with armed vehicles supervise the contract workers who are upgrading the buildings and other facilities ready for the American commanders and 400 British military planners arriving in the next two weeks.

In just a few days time, As Sayliyah will take its place as the most important and sophisticated American base outside the US.

Computer war games

It's winter now, but the searing summer sun raises temperatures to 120 F (49 C).

Equipment and computers have to be stored in climate-controlled buildings.

There are also huge screens that can flash up images of troop positions and ships and pinpoint potential targets inside Iraq.

The system has already been tested in an exercise last month called Internal Look.

Communication via videophones and e-mail allowed the commanders to rehearse their battle plan - a closely-guarded secret, but widely believed to include an attack on Baghdad.

Rise to prominence

Qatar has already played an important part in the war against terrorism.

The nearby Al Udeid airbase has the longest runway in the region and is where the bulk of the heavy equipment has been arriving.

From here, fighter jets flying over Afghanistan are refuelled in mid-air.

The flight time to Iraq, two-and-a-half hours, is the same, and this role would continue in any assault.

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Qatar increased its political prominence recently when neighbouring Saudi Arabia refused to guarantee the Americans use of its airbases for a strike against Iraq.

Qatar, on the other hand, has spent millions of pounds improving military facilities for its American guests.

This small country would find it tough standing alone in the teeth of opposition from other Gulf states.

But the government feels more confident with American allies than with its large and unpredictable neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

'Life as normal'

In the luxury hotels of Doha, built like everything else on the wealth of oil exploitation, the world's media is also preparing for war.

Satellite dishes have been put up and daily briefings from the As Sayliayah base will be televised around the globe.

American residents have been warned to prepare for "all possibilities in case of an emergency".

They have been told to register with the American Embassy and have all important documents up to date in case evacuation becomes necessary.

But life for ordinary Qataris on the surface continues as normal.

In spite of the country's new and crucial military role, nothing disturbs its flat and featureless landscape where sea, sky and desert merge under the glare of the sun.

The BBC's Ian Pannell
"The US military will be ready for war from mid to late February"

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See also:

28 Jan 03 | Americas
09 Dec 02 | Middle East
12 Dec 02 | Middle East
02 Dec 02 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Americas
27 Jan 03 | Americas
27 Jan 03 | Middle East
19 Nov 02 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Middle East
23 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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