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QATAR - Deepening Military Co-operation.

Almost immediately after the 1995 coup that brought the Emir Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa to power, reports began to emerge of strengthened defence linkages with the US. There were reports that Qatar had agreed to pre-position equipment for an Army brigade, and in 1996 it hosted an air expeditionary force consisting of 30 fighters and four tanker aircraft at what was to become Al Udeid air base. In 1999, Sheikh Hamad reportedly told US officials that he would like to see as many as 10,000 US servicemen permanently stationed at Al Udeid base, which is an isolated outpost amid a flat stretch of scrubby desert about 45 km from Doha.

In April 2000, then Secretary of Defence William S. Cohen discussed ways in which Al Udeid could be used in a future crisis situation for air expeditionary forces. Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, an expeditionary wing of the US Air Force arrived at Al Udeid, which was then little more than a collection of tents and a few buildings next to a relatively small runway.

The 823rd Red Horse Squadron deployed at the base on Oct. 2, and began its biggest construction project ever. The US then began installing computers, communications and intelligence equipment and other assets at the base and work proceeded rapidly at the base, which was simultaneously used for flying planes taking part in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

By early 2002, the numbers of US warplanes and personnel at the base had increased substantially. As of mid-March 2002 several thousand American troops were stationed at the base. On March 17, 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney made his first stop at an Operation Enduring Freedom base in the Middle East, to visit the 366th Air Expeditionary Wing stationed at Al Udeid. By late March, the US was moving communications and computer equipment from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia to Al Udeid. By mid-June over 3,000 US personnel were stationed at the base.

Qatar, meanwhile, had offered to spend about $400 million for upgrades at the base, including permanent housing, storage tanks with a capacity of one million gallons of aviation fuel, and a command-and-control facility. For its part, the US was to contribute another $600 million towards the $1 billion expansion of the base.

At Al Udeid, a huge tent city now exists, along with massive, air-conditioned warehouses and miles of security barriers. Freshly paved runways and aircraft parking ramps stretch deep into the desert. Al Udeid's main, 4.5 km runway is the longest in the region. Newly built hangars for fighter aircraft are hardened to withstand aerial attack. There are dozens of hardened bunkers, for storage of munitions and supplies.

Signalling Al Udeid's importance in the US military calculus for the region, Cheney's visit in March was followed by a visit by Defence Secretary Rumsfeld in June 2002. Rumsfeld visited again in December 2002, this time to sign a defence accord with Qatar. At a joint press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad after the pact was signed, Rumsfeld said the agreement would result in quality of life improvements for the US military personnel working at Al Udeid as well as upgrades for the base.

Rumsfeld said the accord, which took about a year to draft, would allow the US to improve facilities on bases in Qatar which it has been using for the previous year under a 1992 defence pact. That pact was updated in 2000 to allow the US to use Al Udeid. The agreement of December 2002 formally expanded bilateral military cooperation and allowed the US to maintain a military presence in the emirate for up to 20 years.

"It will provide the official cover for the deployment of U.S. troops in their bases", said Qatari Foreign Ministry official Khaled Mansouri, who is responsible for the emirate's relations with Europe and the US. Rumsfeld also subsequently toured the As Sayliyah command and control base. His trip to Al Udeid coincided with that made by Gen. Tommy Franks, who was there for the Internal Look exercise, and was followed by another visit from US Joint Chiefs of Staffs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Geographic Code:7QATA
Date:Feb 10, 2003
Previous Article:QATAR - A Frontline State.
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