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Saudi Base to Close, Ops Center Moves to Qatar

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, Saudi Arabia, April 29, 2003 – DoD officials said that the combined air operations center at this base will be mothballed and all U.S. aircraft operating from here will be gone by August.

The decision was made by "mutual agreement," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said following a meeting with Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi defense minister, in Riyadh today. The secretary and minister discussed the changes taking place in the region.

"It is now a safer region with the change of regime in Iraq," Rumsfeld said. But this does not mean an end to the Saudi-U.S. relationship, he noted. The military training and exercise program will move to the fore, and in the months and years ahead, the air base could still be used temporarily for exercises.

The mission of the combined air operations center has already passed to Al Udeid Air Base in neighboring Qatar. "All air tasking orders began coming from Al Udeid yesterday," said Navy Rear Adm. Dave Nichols, coalition air component deputy commander. The center, air command and control center, and all services and nationalities participating in the coalition are commanded through the CAOC.

The Prince Sultan center handled air sorties and targets for Operation Iraqi Freedom; the Al Udeid center handled mission planning for Operation Enduring Freedom and for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

The shift increases the Al Udeid workload, but not intolerably, officials said. On its first day handling the Iraqi Freedom requirement, the Al Udeid CAOC generated about 700 air missions, they noted. About 100 were standby close-air-support missions, and about 400 were airlift missions. The rest were tanker and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

The U.S. aircraft were at the Saudi base to enforce the U.N.-mandated Operation Southern Watch. That operation began 12 years ago at the end of the Persian Gulf War. In the beginning, U.S., British and French aircraft enforced the no-fly zone south of the 33rd parallel. France dropped out of that coalition years ago, but the U.S. and the U.K. pilots kept on. The necessity for that operation ended March 19 with the start of Iraqi Freedom.

At the height of Iraq war, Prince Sultan based about 200 coalition aircraft. Officials said everything from F-16CJs to F-15Cs to airborne warning and control system aircraft flew from there.

There are 100 aircraft based at Prince Sultan today, and officials expect the last American plane to leave the base in August. It is unclear whether a small cadre of Americans will remain to keep the base ready in case of emergency, officials said.

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