A L– U D E I D A I R B A S E, Qatar, Sept. 24, 2002 -- Qatar spent more than $1 billion of its own money building the Al-Udeid Air Base with the needs of the U.S. military in mind.
Located just 700 miles from Baghdad, the base has the longest runway in the Gulf and can handle 120 planes. Two dozen U.S. planes are already based here, refuelers for U.S. air operations over Afghanistan.
"The airplanes operate in a very, very safe environment," said Col. Timothy Scott, the commander of the U.S. Air Force expeditionary wing. "There are good taxiways, good ramps, it's well-lit, and there's good air traffic control, in and out of here."
A total of 3,500 U.S. troops are based in Qatar; 2,000 of them on the base. A huge tent city, complete with air conditioning, a swimming pool and basketball court has sprung up here to accommodate them.
But conditions are harsh here. Temperatures reach 120 degrees on the ground; 140 inside the airplanes.
Al-Udeid was officially classified as secret until March. ABCNEWS was the first television crew to be allowed take pictures of the base.
Qatar Air Base Preferred Over Saudi Arabia
When the United States moves a new, mobile command center here in November, Al-Udeid will have all the capabilities of the Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia, with just about equal flying time to Baghdad. And unlike Saudi Arabia, Qatar has placed no significant restrictions on the U.S. military's use of the base.
"Saudi Arabia was not comfortable with our rules of engagement," said Scott. "The Qataris were comfortable with them. But we realize that our presence here is temporary. We are here as guests of the Qatari government."
In November, the Pentagon will move 600 officers from Central Command headquarters in Florida to Al-Udeid for a war simulation.
"The duration has yet to be determined on how long it will go on," said Scott. "But it's a good opportunity for both countries to get to learn how to work with each other and increase our cooperative agreement."
The mobile command center and many of the Central Command officers will remain here, say defense officials, to be in position to direct possible military action in Iraq.