Sunday, June 23, 2024

First on CNN: US signs deal with Qatar to extend military presence at Al Udeid base


(CNN) – The United States has reached an agreement to extend its military presence at the Al Udeid base in Qatar for another 10 years, three U.S. defense officials and another official familiar with the deal told CNN.

The deal, which was not publicly announced, underscores Washington's confidence in the tiny Gulf nation, which recently played a key role in mediating the release of Americans held in Gaza and Venezuela.

Al Udeid Air Base, located in the desert southwest of Doha, is the largest US military facility in the Middle East and can accommodate more than 10,000 US soldiers.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited the Al Udeid base last month, where he thanked Qatar for increasing spending on the base, but he did not mention the renovation and did not announce it while the Joe Biden administration was under Qatar. Increased scrutiny due to hosting senior leaders of the Hamas movement.

Qatari officials responded that Hamas was not allowed to open a political office in Doha, except for a US request from the Barack Obama administration.

The base was a major hub for US Central Command's air operations in Afghanistan, Iran and across the Middle East, and Qatari and British air forces also operated from the base.

The extension comes as the United States bolsters its presence in the region amid growing threats from Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Qatar was the main mediator with Hamas to secure the release of dozens of Israeli and international hostages after Hamas seized about 240 hostages from Israel on October 7.

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Central to the negotiations is an effort to revive the hostage negotiations in coordination with the US Central Intelligence Agency and the Israeli Mossad and Egypt.

Their role in months of negotiations over Americans detained in Venezuela was minimal, but came to light after President Nicolás Maduro freed 10 Americans last month in exchange for a close ally the US accused of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars.

Qatar's participation in both talks is seen as an expansion of the country's mediation role with US adversaries including Iran and the Taliban.

Analysts say its vast wealth of oil and natural gas, along with its ability to act as an intermediary, allows Qatar to punch above its weight.

Although hosting Hamas leaders is no secret, the attack on Israel on October 7 drew criticism from Qatar and its demand to expel Hamas.

US President Joe Biden has talked about his conversations with the Qatari emir, but sometimes he doesn't give them the credit they deserve. In an article Biden wrote in the US newspaper The Washington Post in November, he did not highlight Qatar's role. Releases prisoners in Venezuela… in its official statement.

The Pentagon declined a request for comment on Tuesday.

Thousands of Afghans were airlifted from Kabul to Al Utdeid in 2021 during the chaos of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

US military personnel struggled to accommodate the massive influx of refugees in what Biden described as “one of the largest and most difficult airlift operations in history.”

Qatar allocated billions of dollars of its own money to renovate facilities for U.S. pilots at Al Udeid, which in 2003 became the main air base for the U.S. Central Command as forces and assets moved from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. A large number of US military personnel were highly sensitive and controversial.

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While Austin did not announce an extension of the deal on Al Udeed during a visit to his base last month, he said the United States and Qatar “will systematically take steps forward to expand and strengthen our bilateral security relationship.” “We will do so through Qatar's commitment to increase capabilities, adding, “The capabilities are at Al Udeid Air Base and will support our forces for years to come.”

Rolf Colon
Rolf Colon
"Creator. Award-winning problem solver. Music evangelist. Incurable introvert."

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