Leaders in Tampa over U.S. forces in Afghanistan

Monday, November 26, 2001

WASHINGTON -- U.S. forces in Afghanistan are commanded from a base in Tampa, Fla., a balmy setting more than 7,700 miles from Kabul.

The Central Command, one of nine U.S. military commands covering different parts of the world, evolved from a smaller unit based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa -- because of past problems in Afghanistan.

The volatile nature of the region makes it tough for the command to move closer to the action, so it has stayed in Florida. The command is responsible for U.S. security interests in 25 nations that stretch from the Horn of Africa through the Arabian Gulf into Central Asia.

"If you had to put your finger on the hottest part of the globe, it would likely come down in CENTCOM's domain," Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote in his 1995 autobiography.

Lt. Col. Chip Compton, a Central Command spokesman, said moving the command has been discussed.

"Historically, it's not been politically feasible," he said. "My guess is that the countries feel uncomfortable having a full-time American presence."

Headquarters work focuses on administrative duties, so a command's base may not matter in warfare that relies on satellites and lasers.

The Central Command's leader, Gen. Tommy Franks, is far from isolated from his troops. The highest-ranking U.S. military officer to go inside Afghanistan in the course of the war, he began last week in Uzbekistan, met at Bagram air base near Kabul, the Afghan capital, with top northern alliance officials, then headed for a tour of the Persian Gulf.

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