The U.S. military's top general told troops stationed in this Persian Gulf state to brace for long-term conflict because he could see no end to the administration's declared war on global terrorism.
On the first stop of a three-day visit to the gulf region and Afghanistan, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked several times by soldiers for some indication of an administration exit strategy and for a lessening of the repeated and extended deployments that many troops are now experiencing.
"I can't give you a good answer," he said. "I just can't do it because there's just too much uncertainty out there."
Myers said that declaring victory and ending the anti-terrorism campaign would require meeting three goals set by President Bush last year: disrupting or destroying terrorist networks, denying terrorists safe havens, and making sure that chemical, biological and nuclear weapons did not fall into the hands of terrorists.
With the Pentagon preparing to send more troops to the region next month in anticipation of a possible invasion of Iraq, Myers said several times today that he could not predict how things would play out. He insisted that there was no set timetable for attacking Iraq, saying that much still depended on the responses of President Saddam Hussein to U.N. weapons inspection teams.
After flying overnight from Washington, Myers spent much of the day touring three military camps in Qatar that would play central roles in any invasion: Al Udeid air base, where American tankers have been flying refueling missions; another air base known as "Camp Snoopy," where U.S. transport aircraft operate re-supply flights; and Camp Al Sayliyah, where the U.S. Central Command set up a forward command headquarters this month to run a war.
Packed with computer terminals, secure phones and flat-screen video monitors, the post is designed to enable officers to monitor military operations throughout the Central Command region, from southwestern Asia to the Horn of Africa.
Myers said he found U.S. troops in Qatar "pretty upbeat," but the soldiers made no secret of their interest in learning when war might come.
Air Force Col. Tim Scott, the base commander at Al Udeid, said his biggest challenge these days was "just keeping rumors under control," because "no one outside of a select few has an idea of what the plan is."
For entertainment, Myers was joined by two celebrities sponsored by the USO: New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens and comedian Drew Carey, a former Marine reservist, whose opening line captured the sentiments of many troops in this barren, sandy expanse.
"What I love about this place is, no matter where you look -- 360 degrees -- you're always reminded how screwed you are," Carey said to widespread laughter. "There's no place on the horizon you can focus on and say, 'Home.' Stuck in the desert."