U.S. Headquarters Is Ready for War - Qatar Command to Begin Combat Exercise (WASHINGTON POST) By Daniel Williams DOHA, Qatar 12/08/02 Page A41)
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DOHA, Qatar, Dec. 7 -- A major American military headquarters is
fully operational at a base near here, U.S. officials said today, for
possible use in a war with Iraq.
Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who would take charge of the war, presided over
the opening of a two-day walk-through in advance of computerized war
games, designated Internal Look, scheduled to begin Monday. About 200
U.S. staff members participated today, along with military observers
from Britain and Australia, identified by U.S. officials as part
of "the coalition." In a statement to the group, Franks stressed the
virtue of being ready for anything.
"Even the best plans change once action starts," he said. "And we
need to be flexible and agile enough to meet any contingencies."
The headquarters provides command and control for U.S. land, sea and
air forces in the Middle East, Central Asia and East Africa. The
debut of the Central Command Deployable Headquarters coincides with a
tense diplomatic drama being played out in Baghdad, where today Iraqi
officials delivered a 12,000-page declaration to the United Nations
reiterating Baghdad´s denials regarding chemical, biological and
nuclear weapons programs.
President Bush has expressed intense skepticism that Iraq would offer
full disclosure of its programs and has reserved the option of
invading the country to overthrow President Saddam Hussein. Bush´s
military tools are almost in place: In recent days, independent
observers in the United States have estimated that forces could be
ready to invade Iraq by the end of the month.
Activation of the headquarters is only the latest element in a
military force that has gradually grown in size and spread throughout
the region. On Thursday, the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman left
Virginia for the Middle East at the head of a multi-ship battle
group. It will join three other battle groups, led by the carriers
Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Constellation, that are
already in place.
For several weeks, thousands of soldiers have been practicing warfare
in Kuwait, and military equipment has poured into the oil-rich
country that Iraq invaded a dozen years ago. The United States is
pressing Turkey, site of a major air base, to serve as a staging
ground for U.S. troops. Jet bombers are based in Kuwait, Saudi
Arabia, Oman, Turkey, on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and
in Qatar, a flat, dusty peninsula 300 miles south of Iraq.
About 55,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors and Air Force personnel are
within striking distance of Iraq, among them 15,000 "trigger-ready"
ground troops, U.S. officials said. Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld has tried to keep secret the numbers and whereabouts of the
forces. "We´ve been moving forces around the world," he said at a
news conference last week. "We´ve got a somewhat higher presence in
the Central Command area today than we did last week or the week
before or the week before that." The Central Command area encompasses
25 countries from Central Asia through the Middle East into East
Today, Franks, dressed in shades of sand desert camouflage, was
surrounded by the equipment necessary to launch warfare. According to
U.S. officials here, Franks can perform the same command tasks in
Qatar as from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, the Central Command´s
home. After the Internal Look exercise ends, the modular buildings
and equipment will remain in place in case there is a real war.
Internal Look will center on a "fictitious but realistic" combat
scenario in the region, U.S. officials said. The exercise will "test
our ability to communicate with the modern battlefield," said a
senior Central Command official. The week-long evaluation will
present commanders with a variety of plots: invasion, resistance,
attacks and counterattacks involving land, sea and air forces. No
soldiers, tanks, planes or ships will move around; everything will be
done by computer simulation. Maps, graphs and tables will let
commanders know the location of friendly and enemy forces, as well as
their activities, casualties and need for ammunition, supplies and
air or artillery strikes, according to published reports.
Central Command officials declined to confirm the published
reports. "Secrecy saves lives and increases the commander´s options,"
said Jim Wilkinson, director of strategic communications. The two-day
exercise launched today, designated Rock Drill, centers on
cataloguing the forces and arms available for the war games.
Officials here likened Rock Drill to the kind of war-gaming that used
to take place on tables, with pieces moved by hand.
Franks labored in a gymnasium at the 262-acre al-Sayliyah military
base, just a few miles from Doha, the capital of Qatar, a sheikdom
rich with oil and natural gas.
(© 2002 The Washington Post Company 12/08/02)
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