DAWN, 10 December 2001

US moves command base to Kuwait

KUWAIT, Dec 9: The United States has transferred command of its ground forces in Afghanistan to Kuwait and sent the head of the US Third Army to the Gulf Arab state to run operations, defence sources and officials said on Sunday.

The US embassy in Kuwait said Lieutenant-General Paul Mikolashek, 54, head of the US Third Army, had temporarily deployed to Kuwait from Atlanta to run US Army Forces Central Command (USARCENT) operations in Afghanistan.

The decision to move ground forces command operations for Afghanistan to Kuwait was taken "due to time zone and distance challenges", the US embassy said.

Mindful of the sensitivity of the US military presence in the oil-rich region among many Arab states, the defence sources stressed that allied commanders were only directing operations from the region and not deploying forces from there..

"The US military is not deploying ground combat units from Kuwait to Afghanistan," a US embassy spokeswoman said.

Mikolashek was previously based in Kuwait when he served as Chief of the US Office of Military Cooperation in the Gulf Arab state in the mid-1990s.

Kuwait, the Gulf region along with Afghanistan fall within his area of responsibility under Central Command which is based in Tampa, Florida. He assumed command of USARCENT in June 2000.

Apart from US army commanders, senior officers from allied countries with troops in Afghanistan such as France and Britain also operate from the US facility at Camp Doha on the outskirts of Kuwait City, the defence sources said.

"It only involves the headquarters element for command and control for all ground forces in CENTCOM's (Central Command) geographic area of responsibility in the region," the embassy spokeswoman said.

"The ground forces under USARCENT's command includes ground forces in Afghanistan, humanitarian assistance and also the 'Desert Spring' military exercises in Kuwait," she added.

The Third Army USARCENT is Washington's only remaining fully deployable numbered army with an area of responsibility from the Horn of Africa to Central Asian states.

Central Command and its USARCENT ground forces component cover 25 states. USARCENT, which led ground operations in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, is in charge of all ground operations within that region.

SECURE LINKS: The US ground forces command room in Kuwait is securely linked to the United States and to similar command rooms in the Gulf Arab region running naval and air force operations.

"The three US forward locations for Central Command in the region are Saudi Arabia for air, Kuwait for ground troops and navy from Bahrain" the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, a Western officer said.

USARCENT commanders are conducting Afghanistan ground operations from the sophisticated command and control room inside Camp Doha which is also used to store heavy US military hardware including main battle tanks.

The US military presence in the Gulf region has become a politically sensitive issue in some states and for many ordinary Arabs who see Washington as biased towards Israel.

Kuwait made clear in the early stages of the US-led campaign to hunt down Osama bin Laden that its ally was not flying missions to Afghanistan from Kuwait.-Reuters

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