Centcom spokesman Commander Hal Pittman said that several hundred troops would be sent to Qatar "soon".

"It will be a gradual thing," he said.

The announcement comes amid a deterioration in the situation in Iraq, after numerous deadly attacks against US and coalition forces, as well as civilian organisations.

Pittman noted that an advance US troop detachment that would normally be based in Tampa, Florida, had been in the base near Qatar's capital, Doha, since December 2002.

Launchpad

"We periodically move elements of the staff back and forth, it's not a secret ... that will allow us to better support the commander (General John Abizaid) in his travels, and more connectivity with other units in that theatre," Pittman said.

Abizaid will continue to travel back and forth between the United States and Qatar, he added, noting Abizaid was in the region 70% or 80% of the time.

Centcom moved its operations to Qatar in the run-up to the assault on Iraq after pressure from the Saudi government forced the US to abandon its bases in the neighbouring kingdom.

The gas-rich Gulf emirate served as one of the launchpads for the bombing campaign that marked the opening of the invasion.