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U.S. military presence in Gulf region changing

CNN's Barbara Starr
CNN's Barbara Starr

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DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- For the first time since the start of hostilities in Iraq, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is visiting and congratulating U.S. troops stationed throughout the Persian Gulf region.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr is traveling with the defense secretary and filed this report on the U.S. military's presence in the region.

STARR: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld getting a very enthusiastic welcome from the troops here in Qatar, as he came to thank them for their work in the war.

But behind the scenes, a great deal of business is also being accomplished. The new shape of a U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf region is now beginning to emerge. It's a real change for the first time in 12 years, as Iraq no longer poses a threat to its neighbors, especially Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Persian Gulf nations.

Two things are beginning to happen: the U.S. Combined Air Operation Center, which since the mid-1990s has been located at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, will move to Qatar. Air operations, the coordination of any air activity by the U.S. military in the region, will now take place from Qatar.

In addition, a joint task force is being formed. It will be headquartered in Baghdad, Iraq, and coordinate all peacekeeping operations and all military coordination for reconstruction operations in Iraq.

But what the Gulf countries are telling Rumsfeld is they want to know how quickly the United States will be able to turn a future Iraqi government back over to the Iraqi people.

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