Thousands Join US Cyber-Rehearsal For War
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THOUSANDS JOIN US CYBER-REHEARSAL FOR WAR
From Nicholas Blanford in Doha, Qatar
The Times Online
Monday, December 9, 2002
A UNITED STATES military exercise that could shape the tactics in any war
against Iraq begins today at the sprawling al-Sayliyah army camp in the
desert outside Doha, the capital of Qatar.
This, however, is no conventional military exercise. There will be no tank
formations churning up the desert, no artillery batteries pounding the
horizon, no helicopter gunships overhead, and no sweating soldiers in sand
Instead the participants, ³headquarters staff from US Central Command
(Centcom)², are more likely to be found hunched over computer consoles and
staring at video screens for the duration of the ³Internal Look² exercise.
General Tommy Franks, the commander of Centcom, and about 600 of his staff
will spend between a week and ten days in al-Sayliyah playing a
sophisticated virtual war game that will involve several thousand US
soldiers in command centres spanning all 25 countries within Centcom¹s area
of operations, from North Africa to East Asia. They would be joined by about
400 British troops in Qatar and another 400 from bases in Britain, America
and the Gulf, diplomatic sources said.
³What this exercise is going to do is test and exercise our ability to
communicate on the modern battlefield,² a senior Centcom official said.
³This exercise is going to be a very complex computer-based and assisted
exercise that will not involve combat forces.² General Franks led some 200
of his staff through a warm-up on Saturday.
Three previous ³Internal Look² exercises have been held since 1990, but this
is the first to be conducted outside America. The scenario is classified,
but there are no prizes for guessing which country is likely to be the
Tensions with Iraq remain high and America has been steadily building up its
forces in the Gulf region for months. Some 10,000 American troops are
conducting exercises in Kuwait near the border with southern Iraq. About
4,000 US forces are in Qatar, most of them at al-Sayliyah and at the £930
million state-of-the-art al-Udeid airbase, five minutes further down the
The 262-acre al-Sayliyah base was constructed at a cost of more than £73
million and is Centcom¹s largest pre-positioning facility outside America.
Its 27 temperature-controlled warehouses can house equipment for an armoured
division of 11,000 soldiers. The facility holds hundreds of tanks and
armoured fighting vehicles, allowing US forces to cut the speed of
deployment from four weeks ³as at the time of the 1991 Gulf War² to just
A large American flag flutters in the hot breeze beside the Qatari national
flag providing a splash of colour amid the drab buildings. The base is
protected by a 2.5-mile mesh fence interspersed with watch towers. The
perimeter fence is reinforced by twin steel cables designed to stop lorries
from breaking through. A waist-high barricade of rocks provides a secondary
line of defence. Heavily armed American private security guards man the
entrance to the base while other uniformed soldiers scrutinise the perimeter
fence through binoculars.
Hidden among buildings are new portable headquarters that are being tested
as part of the exercise. The mobile command centre was transported from
America to Qatar last month and assembled at al-Sayliyah for ³Internal
Look². Comprising several modular units and capable of withstanding extreme
heat and cold, the centre is designed to be flown and assembled anywhere in
the Centcom area of operations.
Pentagon officials have indicated that some senior staff involved in the
exercise could remain in Qatar once it ends, instead of returning to
Centcom¹s headquarters in Tampa, Florida. The portable headquarters is also
expected to stay in Qatar, heightening speculation that the tiny oil and
gas-rich Gulf state could play a pivotal role in a possible invasion of
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