With tensions rising over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and global terrorism still a threat, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has embarked on a week-long trip to the Middle East and Horn of Africa region.
Because of ongoing terrorist threats, the Rumsfeld trip is taking place under extraordinarily strict security.
Unlike most of his previous international journeys, defense officials have not announced any of Mr. Rumsfeld's specific destinations in advance.
They have said only that he is traveling to the U.S. military's Central Command area of responsibility, an area which includes 25 countries in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and South and Central Asia.
It is an area where some 60,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed, many of them engaged in anti-terrorist activities while others are strategically positioned around Iraq in the event of any new conflict.
The Rumsfeld trip coincides with a crucial Central Command exercise taking place this week in Qatar. It is a computer war-game, and no ground combat forces are taking part in any field exercises. But officials say it will test critical command, control and communications functions from a specially-deployed mobile headquarters that has been shipped to Qatar where it could serve as the nerve center for any new action against Baghdad.
The Rumsfeld trip also comes as the U.S. military inaugurates a new joint task force headquarters for the war against terrorism in the Horn of Africa.
A special U.S. navy command-and-control ship carrying the new task force command staff has been en route to the region, where the general in charge is eventually expected to set up his headquarters in the tiny nation of Djibouti.
Several hundred Army soldiers are already there, many of them Special Operations troops. U.S. Marines have also been exercising in the area, recently in Kenya as well as Djibouti.