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U.S. ramps up preparations at Qatar base

From Alex Quade

Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar (CNN) -- Military personnel are rapidly preparing this military base for the arrival of top brass from U.S. Central Command who are coming to Qatar to direct a possible conflict with Iraq.

This week, military officials told CNN that senior U.S. military planners will go to Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar in the coming days, to staff the headquarters. If there is a war with Iraq, Gen. Tommy Franks would run it from this base.

U.S. Navy Seabees and Army engineers are working as fast as they can for the arrival for as many as 1,000 of Franks' staff, who could start coming in the next week or two.

The work is necessary in order to expand the base for the new arrivals. The base, which was designed for 200 to 300 people, could see its ranks swell to more than 10 times that many in the coming weeks.

"We're looking at potentially up to 3,000-4,000 that could be based here," said Lt. Commander Kurt Gies, of the Navy Seabees.

This forward headquarters was put to the test in December, in a military exercise called "Internal Look," in which approximately 750 military planners took part. That time they were there for a week. The military personnel now to Camp As Sayliyah will be based there indefinitely.

"The Seabees and Army Corps of Engineers usually come into a country and build a base from the ground up," Gies said. "In the case of As Sayliyah, they've made major improvements on infrastructure already here."

Work is underway to expand the base for the new arrivals.
Work is underway to expand the base for the new arrivals.

Those improvements include converting 33 warehouses that were once used to store tanks so they can now be used for other purposes. In general, the new numbers mean there will be many more bunks, more mess halls, and more latrines.

As the preparations have been ramped up, every man and woman has had to work as a jack-of-all-trades.

"One day I'd be welding, then the next day I'd be putting up a building, hammering nails or maybe even drywalling or mudding," said Chief Petty Officer Shelly Wallace, of the Navy Seabees.

The payoff, the military hopes, will be a headquarters fit for a general.

"When I leave my office and see what we've built and what it can do -- and that is whatever Gen. Franks wants it to do, it is capable of doing ... that means a major exercise or operation in this area of the world, then we're ready," Gies said.

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