Rumsfeld said the agreement would permit improvements in the quality of life for U.S. troops there and to provide "state of the art capabilities" at al-Udeid. He said it had nothing to do with possible war with Iraq, although al-Udeid likely would be a key to carrying out an air campaign.
The deal signed today underscores the crucial role the tiny desert country could play in any war with Iraq despite Rumsfeld's best efforts to play it down.
"The agreement we have signed today is not connected to Iraq," Rumsfeld said. "It's an agreement which has been under discussion for many, many weeks and months."
But, as CBS News Correspondent Allen Pizzey reports, the billion-dollar base has the longest runway in the Gulf and can handle much more than the Qatari military needs -- and it's barely 700 miles from Baghdad.
And if Saddam Hussein can't hear the planes in Qatar, what looks and sounds like "Desert Storm: Round Two" has been going on in Kuwait, a few miles from the Iraqi border.
There, U.S. troops are engaged in high tech training. Superior technology gives U.S. forces a unique night-fighting advantage. Officially the night firing -- tanks, armor and men churning up the desert -- was regular training, but it has been more intense than is normal on such exercises. And, a blinding, face-stinging sandstorm gave the troops a taste of the other enemy they might face here.
The soldiers of Task Force 315, who participated in the exercise say they don't want a war.
"But what I will tell you is that we've trained and ready, if we're called upon to do so," said Lt. Col. Stephen Twitty, Task Force Commander, 3rd Infantry.
More than 10,000 U.S. troops in Kuwait are part of an ongoing build-up in the region that Pentagon sources have said makes launching war against Iraq possible within a month if necessary.
But whatever high tech improvements are planned to enhance their capabilities, high-tech is still no substitute for boots on the ground -- which is why so many boots are pounding the ground within Saddam's earshot.