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Pentagon Conducts Military Exercises at Possible Iraq War Command Post


If U.S. troops go to war with Iraq, the main forward command center is likely to be located inside a massive, sand-colored warehouse at a heavily-guarded desert military base in the Gulf state of Qatar located about 1,000 kilometers southeast of Baghdad.

The music inside the warehouse plays 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the noise intended to mask conversations against possible electronic eavesdropping.

It is just one of many security measures in place at Camp As Sayliyah, where the massive warehouse, one of 33 on the sprawling base, has become the temporary forward headquarters of the U.S. military's Central Command, known as Centcom.

Led by its commander, four star army General Tommy Franks, Centcom forces have been staging a computer battle exercise called "Internal Look." This command, control and communications test is seen by many observers as a dress rehearsal for a new war with Iraq.

It is being run from a $58 million high-tech deployable command center, actually a series of about 20 tents and containers positioned inside the warehouse. The components, filled with sophisticated electronic gear, were built by a private defense firm in the United States and flown 10,000 kilometers to Qatar more than a month ago for the exercise.

At its heart, beyond a barbed-wire fence erected inside the warehouse, is the Joint Operations Center, where some three dozen personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are constantly receiving and passing on to commanders like General Franks updated information on the progress of the fictional war.

Navy Lieutenant Commander Matthew Klee is a watch officer in the Center, visited for the first time last week by a group of reporters who accompanied Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on a trip to Qatar.

Speaking against a surprisingly noisy backdrop of humming from the computers and other electronic gear, Commander Klee explains that "there's a lot of work going on. We get tons and tons of e-mail. There's a lot of information that comes in here that we have to digest and what their job is is to take that information, make it as concise as possible and report back to the chief," he said.

The information is coming from air, ground and naval units around the region who are taking part in the battle simulation. Some 60,000 U.S. military personnel are scattered around the Gulf, ready for any possible contingency.

Military officials seem pleased with the progress of the exercise. General Franks, Centcom's commander, tells reporters about the lessons learned.

"A bit more than a year ago, we started building this deployable command post," he said. "And being able to bring it to Qatar for Exercise Internal Look has given us an opportunity to do several things. One, it's given us an opportunity to pack up this brand new set of technology, which is absolutely cutting edge, state of the art, and move it several thousand miles, set it up again, and then train ourselves on how to use that."

Though the exercise is only a few days old when reporters tour the facility, General Franks says he likes the performance of the technology and the people running such equipment as video-teleconferencing gear and wide plasma display screens.

For his part, visiting Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says he is also pleased. "As someone coming in just to look at it for a brief period, I must say it is impressive," he said.

Defense officials say the portable command-and-control post will remain in Qatar indefinitely, in case the war game becomes a real war.

What has not yet been decided is whether General Franks and his battle command staff will also stay on in Qatar or return to their permanent headquarters in the U.S. state of Florida.

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