By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001
TAMPA -- As it did during the Gulf War, MacDill Air Force Base played a key role in Friday's attack on Iraq. It is the home of U.S. Central Command, known as CentCom, which comprises officers from every branch of the service and oversees military operations in the Persian Gulf.
The strike by 24 aircraft was a "carefully planned and orchestrated strike" that had been recommended by CentCom's commander, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, said Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold.
Along with the Persian Gulf region, the command is responsible for military operations in 25 countries, including the horn of Africa and Southwest Asia.
Created under the Carter administration, CentCom, originally called the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, was intended to direct military operations in the Middle East and to respond to "brush fire" wars.
At the time, skeptics questioned whether the command could respond quickly to an overseas crisis from Tampa, but the Gulf War went a long way toward dispelling such doubts. The war catapulted the military headquarters to global recognition and made a hero of CentCom's then-commander, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
Capt. Darren Berry, spokesman for MacDill, said the base's 6th Air Mobility Wing had two KC-135 refueling aircraft in the gulf, with some 70 people serving on the planes and in ground support posts. It was unclear, however, whether those planes played a role in Friday's bombing.
Aug. 2: Iraq invades Kuwait.
Jan. 16-17: U.S.-led coalition launches air war against Iraq. Ground operations begin Feb. 24.
Feb. 27: Coalition forces enter Kuwait City. Cease-fire is Feb. 28.
March 2: U.N. announces sanctions imposed on Iraq after the invasion will be lifted only when weapons inspectors declare Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction and the means to produce them. Iraq accepts terms March 3.
April 8: United States, France and Britain declare a 19,000-square-mile area of northern Iraq a "safe haven" for Kurds and impose a no-fly zone above 36th parallel.
Aug. 26: A no-fly zone below the 32nd parallel is imposed over southern Iraq to stop Iraqi air attacks on Shiite Muslim rebels. U.S. and some allies begin patrols.
Jan. 7: Allied warplanes and warships attack missile sites and a nuclear facility following Iraq's refusal to remove missiles the U.S. says were moved into southern Iraq.
June 27: U.S. warships fire 24 cruise missiles at intelligence headquarters in Baghdad in retaliation for assassination plot against former President George Bush.
Oct. 7: Iraqi troops move toward Kuwait, then pull back when U.S. dispatches carrier group, 54,000 troops and warplanes.
April 14: U.N. resolution allows partial resumption of Iraq's oil exports for purchases of food and medicine. It is not accepted by Iraq until May 1996 and is not implemented until December 1996.
August-September: Saddam Hussein sends forces into northern Iraq, helping one Kurdish group capture Irbil, a key city inside the Kurdish "safe haven." U.S. ships and airplanes fire scores of cruise missiles at Iraqi anti-missile sites. The United States extends the northern limit of the southern no-fly zone to latitude 33 degrees north, just south of Baghdad.
November: Iraq orders American weapons inspectors to leave the country, accusing them of spying.
February: U.S., British military buildup in Persian Gulf over Iraq's refusal to allow inspection of presidential palaces.
Feb. 23: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan works out agreement with Iraq, defusing crisis.
Oct. 31: Iraq cuts off all U.N. monitoring work; United States, Britain warn military strikes are possible.
Dec. 16: U.N. weapons inspectors withdraw from Baghdad after reporting Iraq not cooperating with their work. Just before 1 a.m. local time on Dec. 17, the U.S. and Britain launch a four-night bombing campaign, Operation Desert Fox, to destroy Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. After this, Iraq actively tries to shoot down planes in the no-fly zone.
Feb. 16: U.S., Britain attack communications and control facilities. -- Sources: AP, BBC, CNN