Turkey & Qatar stage military drills amid Gulf diplomatic crisis
The drills were aimed at preparing Qatar's military to defend "vital economic, strategic and infrastructure facilities," Al-Sharq newspaper reported, as quoted by Reuters.
The exercises come after Turkish media reported that joint drills would be taking place August 6-7, with officials saying they would be aimed at "strengthening the defense capabilities of both countries" and "boosting efforts to combat armed groups and maintaining stability in the region."
According to Anadolu agency, Qatari Emiri Navy Commander Rear Admiral Mohammed Nasser al-Mohannadi visited the Turkish frigate ‘TCG Gökova’ last week, which is docked at Hamad Port in Qatar.
Turkish soldiers moved into the country in June, after Ankara fast-tracked legislation to allow hundreds of troops to be deployed to a Turkish military base in Qatar. The move came after several Arab nations imposed a blockade on Doha, accusing it of supporting terrorism.
Ankara has said it will deploy 3,000 ground troops to the base, for joint training exercises and to support anti-terrorism efforts.
However, the existence of the base is a major point of contention among the Arab countries which issued the blockade on Qatar in June. Its closure is part of a 13-point ultimatum issued by those countries, which include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Despite calls to shut down the base, Doha is unlikely to do so. Qatar's defense minister told RT last month that Doha and Ankara enjoy a "special strategic relationship," as they have the same stance on the issue of "liberating the oppressed peoples and democracies."
Turkey also said in June that is has no intention of shutting down its base, with Defense Minister Fikri Isik making clear to local broadcaster NTV that "re-evaluating the base agreement with Qatar is not on our agenda.”
Qatar and Ankara share ideological ties, as Turkey's ruling party has Islamist roots and Doha is a main backer of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which Qatar's opponents deem a terrorist organization.
As part of its ultimatum, countries behind the blockade of Qatar have demanded Doha end its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, downgrade ties with Iran, shut down the Turkish military base and close its Al Jazeera news channel.
Qatar has denied all charges related to terrorism and has refused to accept the demands, claiming they are an infringement on its sovereignty. Doha has also said it doesn't fear retaliatory measures imposed for its non-compliance.
Doha took action against the trade blockade last week, filing a wide-ranging legal complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO). Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have been given 60 days to settle the complaint or face litigation at the WTO and potential retaliatory trade sanctions.