Moving Al-Udeid Base from Qatar Discussed in Washington D.C.
Suggesting a breach in Qatari-American relations, the Trump administration may be considering moving a large military installation from the tiny Arab nation.
“The United States military doesn’t have any irreplaceable bases,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in his keynote address at a Washington conference titled, “Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Global Affiliates.” While stressing that Qatar remains a military ally, Gates said “the problem is outside the military relationship. The military relationship, as we know, it is very good. It's everything outside the military relationship that's a concern for us.”
Gates was not the only speaker at the conference – which was attended by senior members of the White House, as well as members of the past three presidential administrations - who condemned Qatar’s inability to fully clamp down on terror financing emanating from the emirate fully, including Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist organization.
“I think if behaviors didn't change there would be a willingness to look at other options for basing,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-California), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at the conference organized by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Hudson Institute, and The George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security.
Qatar is home to the forward operating base of U.S. Central Command. However, “CENTCOM” isn’t the only U.S. asset at Qatar’s sprawling Al Udeid Airbase. In addition to hosting Qatari forces, the base also hosts the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing of the U.S. Air Force. Other U.S. military has been active in the country as well including the U.S. Navy SEALS.
The facility is also used by the British Royal Airforce. The base which was built by French contractors over a decade ago is one of the few U.S. airbases overseas where B-52 bombers, America’s largest warplane can land due to the long runways.
Those facilities could be relocated to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates if need be. However, speakers at the event cautioned that such a move would be strategically difficult.
“In an ideal world the United States would have a diversified force posture across the region, to include Qatar,” said Jake Sullivan, former National Security Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden,“… But I do think that we have to take a firmer line with our partner.”
Gates revealed that while Secretary of Defense in 2007 he had sat down with the Emir of Qatar to discuss ways Qatar could end terrorism financing in the country. “I have to confess that there was a good deal of nodding and explanation but we didn't see much change.”
Since then Qatar has committed itself to do more in the fight against terrorism finance in the past. Three of the last five Qatari nationals of concern to the U.S government were persecuted, and several of whom are serving house arrest according to speakers at the conference.
Qatar was a signatory to the Jeddah Communique in 2014 and again committed itself to counter-terrorism efforts during President Trump’s trip to Riyadh. The President even made one reference to Qatar during his speech in Riyadh.
“Qatar, which hosts the U.S. Central Command, is a crucial strategic partner,” he said.