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Central Command staffers heading to Qatar

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Between one-quarter to one-third of the staff of the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, will be dispatched to the Persian Gulf state of Qatar in November in what military officials said would be a one-week exercise.

Pentagon sources told CNN the drill could lay the groundwork for a permanent move of the entire headquarters to Qatar, something many in the Pentagon favor.

The exercise, dubbed "Internal Look '03," will involve between 600 and 1,000 personnel from the headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

The military has been improving a large air base and constructing a command and control center in Qatar.

Sources said Al-Udeid Air Base features a 15,000-foot runway and hardened shelters that can accommodate nearly 100 aircraft.

Pentagon officials insisted the planned movement was only a one-week exercise designed to test a new deployment techniques using modular buildings to set up a headquarters quickly overseas. The newly constructed deployable buildings will be shipped by sea in containers later this month.

Pentagon sources said the military would like to move Central Command permanently to the region, which would place commanders closer to the action in Afghanistan and to action in Iraq in the event of war.

Central Command oversees operations in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. European commanders are based in Germany and Pacific commanders in Hawaii.

Officials cautioned that while preliminary plans were afoot to move the Central Command headquarters to Qatar, the plan is contingent on several unresolved issues, including how the exercise will be received by Qatar officials.

"There has been no final decision on that," a senior military official told CNN when asked about the status of the plan.




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