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Keystroke would launch attack---Very Interesting

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CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, QATAR -- The first sound of the coming war may be the tapping of a keyboard.


In a long, narrow room crammed with video monitors and laptop computers, U.S.-led forces will appear on plasma screens in blue and green. The Iraqis will be colored red.


Their movements will be followed on banks of computer terminals connected by fiber-optic cables and satellites to battlefield communications sites. A special e-mail system will be the primary means of communication.


This is the nerve center of U.S. Central Command's forward headquarters near Doha, Qatar, just beyond the reach of Saddam Hussein's missiles.


There's never been anything quite like it. The high-tech Joint Operations Center represents the U.S. military's first totally integrated forward command post.


If President Bush orders an attack, this center hidden inside a warehouse in the camp was designed to provide commanders from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines with a seamless electronic picture of every plane, ship and tank involved in the fight.


"What we do is maintain situational awareness of everything that's going on in the war theater," said Navy Cmdr. Mike Wilson, one of the center's chief operating officers.


Wilson, a 43-year-old reservist who flies for Federal Express in civilian life, is among those who will orchestrate the flow of information. "Our whole focus is to coordinate and communicate down through all the components, to make life easier for them, to reduce the fog of war," he said.




From this windowless perch of tan carpeting and plastic chairs, Gen. Tommy Franks could direct the allied attack in Iraq and track its progress, just as if he were back at his headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., or in an airborne command post.


Although he has visited As Sayliyah in recent weeks, Franks has declined to say publicly which command post will be the primary nerve center of the war.


"What we have here is a replica of what we have in Tampa," said Air Force Capt. Danielle Burrows, a spokeswoman for the forward base at As Sayliyah. "But he can direct the war from just about anyplace he is."


The 262-acre base at As Sayliyah provides not only military options but political ones. Unlike the war in Afghanistan, which Franks directed from Florida, this state-of-the-art facility puts him and his commanders in the vicinity of the battle -- leading from the front -- but with all the accoutrements of the rear headquarters.


Along with its companion air base -- Al Udeid -- As Sayliyah has played an increasingly important role for the U.S. military in the Gulf since the last war with Iraq, which Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf ran out of neighboring Saudi Arabia.


In recent years, as the Saudis have grown increasingly squeamish about domestic anti-U.S. sentiment, the Qatari government has allowed the U.S. Army to stockpile combat equipment and communication gear at As Sayliyah -- along with fighter jets at Al Udeid.


With a runway nearly 15,000 feet long, Al Udeid is expected to provide substantial air muscle in the campaign.


But As Sayliyah will provide the brains.


War by e-mail


Viewed from the litter-strewn industrial park that surrounds it, As Sayliyah looks more like a self-storage complex than a military compound. Rows of drab warehouses house tents where soldiers set up housekeeping and go about their chores. Nearly everybody's job supports the fenced-off, barbed-wire-protected command post at the heart of the base.


There, in a 60-by-22-foot room, war will be reduced to e-mail, video-conferencing, computer graphics and electronic maps. The 1,000-strong garrison of U.S., British, Canadian and Australian commanders will unfold few paper maps and probably never see a flesh-and-blood enemy.


Instead, about 50 commanders huddled in the low-ceiling room will receive "real time" information from the field, aided by Global Positioning Satellites, classified computer networks, phones, radio tracking devices and Predator flight video. They also will get CNN.


If it all has the look and feel of a video game, commanders say they are still close enough to the war to get a feel for the action.


"There's a tension between monitoring the battlefield electronically and actually being in the field talking to officers," said British Maj. Peter Caddick-Adams, a military historian. "We're a step removed, but close enough to unruffle any feathers."


No one is forgetting that the war will be fought by real soldiers, Marines, sailors and aviators -- all converging on the uncertain streets of Baghdad.


"We have great confidence in the guys out there, in cockpits and on the ground," Wilson said. "That's where it all happens."


But the beginning of the battle, if it comes, will probably be tapped out in this cramped room -- or one just like it in Tampa or on the airborne command anywhere in the world.


"It's war-launch by keystroke," Caddick-Adams said. "Someone, somewhere, will type something that will result in an order."

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