US “Quietly” Signs Deal With Qatar To Renew Contract For Its Largest Military Base For Another Decade

Amid raging hostilities in the region, the United States continues to expand its presence in the Middle East. In a giant leap forward, it has quietly negotiated an agreement to prolong its military presence at Qatar’s massive Al Udeid Air Base.

The information was divulged by three US defense officials and another official familiar with the agreement to CNN. The accord, which has not been made public, demonstrates how dependent Washington is on the tiny Gulf nation, which has recently been instrumental in securing the release of American hostages in Gaza and Venezuela.

The largest US military post in the Middle East, Al Udeid Air Base, is situated in the desert southwest of Doha and usually accommodates over 10,000 US soldiers. During his visit to Al Udeid last month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expressed gratitude to Qatar for hiking its investment in the facility and modernizing it.

The development also comes a year after the United States designated Qatar as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) last year. At the time, it was viewed as one of Washington’s initial moves toward the US putting up a counterbalance against China and Russia in strategic theatres of the Eurasian great power rivalry.

The timing of the development is intriguing, given that Qatar is one of the very few countries that takes the liberation of Palestinian Territories from the clutches of Israel very seriously. When Blinken visited the country shortly after the Hamas attack in October last year, the Qatari position was not endorsing Israel, which is a staunch US ally.

On October 13, Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said in an official statement: “I reiterated Qatar’s firm position in condemning all forms of targeting civilians. I want to stress that the killing of innocent civilians, especially children and women, and the practice of collective punishment policies are unacceptable under any circumstance. These condemnations should be directed at all parties concerned on an equal basis.”

The surprise attack launched by Hamas on Israel on the fateful day of October 7 was followed by the Israeli administration declaring war on the Gaza-based Hamas group. In the course of the aerial bombing of this strip, almost 23,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians.

Some military watchers have gone so far as to say that Qatar, along with Iran, has provided support to Hamas financially as well in providing arms and ammunition, part of which Hamas has been purchasing from other sources like China, Russia, and the Taliban.

In all probability, the US is looking to enforce a drastic change in its security arrangement in the Mediterranean region at a time when the region is under the spotlight again, and the Ukraine war has somewhat gone on the back burner. Not only is the US aiding Israel in its war but also fighting its regional adversaries, most of them backed by Iran.

Following the approximately 240 hostages that Hamas abducted from Israel on October 7, Qatar has served as the main negotiator between the two sides, mediating the initial release of a large number of Israeli and foreign hostages. Coordinating with Egypt, Israel’s Mossad, and the CIA, it remains a key player in the efforts to resurrect hostage talks.

Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base Is A Pivot To The Middle East For US

The US Central Command has used the base as a major hub for its air operations in and around Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East. 

The emergence and spread of al-Udeid are reminiscent of the “forever wars” that ensued after al-Qaida’s assaults on September 11, 2001, in New York and Washington. When Saudi Arabia requested that American forces withdraw from the kingdom, Qatar proposed Al-Udeid, constructed at an estimated $1 billion in its infancy.

The base is situated on a level stretch of desert. More than 10,000 personnel lived at the facility and other locations in Qatar at the height of US military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

The recent agreement, for one, comes even as the US has been reinforcing its pre-deployment initiatives in Qatar to strengthen its regional geopolitical position and give it continued 360° protection against threats from Iran, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq.

File Image: US Base in Qatar

Earlier this year, the US deployed F-22s and a squadron of “core space operators” from the new US Space Force at the Al-Udeid Air Base. Additionally, in the World Cup hosted by Qatar in late 2022, around 8000 US troops were deployed to Qatar. 

Reports in 2018 indicated that Qatar would invest $1.8 billion to upgrade Al Udeid Air Base. At the time, the reports noted that the defense minister of Qatar announced plans to add over 200 more housing units to allow the deployed US troops at the Al-Udeid Air Base to feel at home.

Al-Udeid has been a center of importance for US air operations in the Middle East since 2003. It further gained importance following the United States’ operations against the Islamic State. Although the US has never called for a permanent presence at the airbase, there have been sporadic reports indicating that there were plans to ultimately make the presence a permanent one in the region.

Qatar not only provides the United States with a base but also purchases substantial quantities of American military hardware, as evidenced by the multi-billion dollar purchase of F-15 fighter jets and over $900 million worth of missiles, weaponry, and logistical equipment.

In late 2022, journalists for the Associated Press were shown a newly constructed dining hall and dorms, and airmen also talked about future upgrades. And despite concerns to the contrary, airmen claimed that the establishment of a new task force at Al-Udeid centered on drones and other commercially available military technologies demonstrated that Washington is here to stay.

“There is a tremendous commitment from the US Air Force to this region,” Air Force Lt. Col. Erin Brilla told the AP. “We are staying as an enduring capability.