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Pentagon officials do not expect Qatar to revoke US access to a key base in the country amid a spiraling diplomatic spat in the Gulf.
Despite the seeming fallout from President Donald Trump’s tweets suggesting that Qatar, a Middle East ally that hosts 10,000 US troops, was justifiably isolated by its Gulf neighbors, the Pentagon has yet to see any changes in its relations with the Gulf state, two US officials told BuzzFeed News.
In private conversations between Pentagon officials and their Qatari counterparts, there have been no apologies from the Americans or pleas for leniency from the Qataris, two US officials told BuzzFeed News. Instead, they’ve discussed their mutual dependency — Qatar appears as eager to keep the US military operating there as the Pentagon is to maintain operations critical to its ongoing war against ISIS.
“They need us as much as we need them,” a third US official said.
Just outside Doha sits al-Udeid airbase, which not only hosts thousands of US troops but is the main regional hub for combat air operations the US-led coalition war against ISIS. Al-Udeid became a key for US operations since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, where it served as headquarters for the US war fighting, housing 5,000 troops. The importance of the base has only grown since then.
Beyond its role in the fight against ISIS, some flights supporting the war in Afghanistan also leave from al-Udeid. The base also is home to US troops who communicate with their Russian counterparts in about ways to deconflict possible flights over Syria, where both countries are launching airstrikes for opposing sides of the war.
Other regional partners, like Jordan and Turkey, put restrictions on what kind of US operations fly out of bases in the counties that sometimes extend to allowed targets. Qatar, by comparison, puts the least restrictions on US military operations, making it particularly appealing to the United States.
Should the US be forced to close the base, it would most likely have to move a carrier to the region to become the base of air operations. That would be both costly and far short of replicating the size and scope of operations that al-Udied allows. And that could have tactical effects on a war in which commanders already complain of not having enough drones or air support for the war.
Qatar also is the home to the regional headquarters of US Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for the wars in Middle East. CENTCOM has said its operations have not been interrupted since the crisis erupted earlier this week.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis visited the base in April to “reinforce relationships” ties between the two countries.
For the Qataris, the US military presence is also a form of security for the tiny Gulf nation — despite a vast amount of oil wealth, with which it buys the majority of its planes and other military equipment from the United States, it has only a modest military force of roughly 12,000 troops total.
The Trump administration has worked to clean up the president’s tweets through phone calls to King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Amir Sheikh Tameem bin Hamad al Thani of Qatar, even offering to mediate between the disputing nations, according to White House readouts of the calls. But so far, the president’s outreach hasn’t changed the course of the feud. On Wednesday, the UAE suggested it may put an embargo in place against Qatar. The Saudi foreign minister said it did not need outside mediation. And, as a show of support of Qatar, Turkey’s parliament approved a draft bill allowing its troops to a base in Qatar.