© St. Petersburg Times, published September 11, 2002
The events of the past year have thrown a spotlight on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa that is unlikely to diminish any time soon.
MacDill is home to Central Command and the Special Operations Command. Both have been key players in the war in Afghanistan and would be relied on heavily in the increasingly likely event of military operations in Iraq.
Central Command, directed by Army Gen. Tommy Franks, has an area of responsibility that is larger than the continental United States. It includes Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Franks reportedly began drawing up war plans for Iraq not long after Sept. 11. As recently as last month he briefed President Bush on the so-called "Inside Out" option, which would combine air strikes deep in Iraq with a ground assault aimed at the rapid capture of Baghdad.
Central Command's role is the visible part of warfare, the air campaigns and buildup of American forces. But as President Bush often said after the Sept. 11 attacks, the war on terrorism would also feature unseen operations.
That's where the Special Operations Command comes in. It was special operations forces -- covert units that go behind enemy lines with as few as three or four members -- that slipped into Afghanistan in the early days of the war, paving the way for a larger coalition force.
Writing recently in the magazine Foreign Affairs, Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst, wrote, "The Afghan resistance, the Bush administration, its international coalition partners, the U.S. armed forces and the CIA have accomplished what will likely be remembered as one of the greater military successes of the twenty-first century."
As a result of those successes, Rep. Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, thinks that in the future the United States will rely more heavily on special operations forces as it prosecutes the war on terror worldwide.
Special operations forces reportedly have been training government troops in the Philippines and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Goss, a Sanibel Republican -- and a former CIA man -- says the United States has always been bad at getting rid of the "bad dog," as he put it, in places like Cuba, Kosovo and Iraq.
Which is why, Goss says, that as the United States adjusts to the terrorist threat -- to an an enemy that will not engage U.S. forces directly -- it will increasingly rely on the unique talents of the special operations forces.
The war effort hasn't been without its critics. Initially some people, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, complained that Franks was not being creative enough in prosecuting Enduring Freedom. The hollering stopped, however, once enemy strongholds started to fall.
Franks has also caught grief for his decision to keep his base of operations in Tampa and not in the region as Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, former Centcom commander, did during the Gulf War.
Adm. Craig Quigley, the Centcom spokesman until a few weeks ago, points out that Franks keeps in constant contact with his field commanders through secure communications and has real-time access to the war zone through the use of unmanned aerial drones. Franks, Quigley says, also travels to the region regularly.
Unlike the other unified commands, Centcom is based outside its area of responsibility, because of political sensibilities. Besides, the Pentagon says, military planners do not want to provide the enemy with a target like Franks by having him near the front lines.