US secretly prolongs military base deal with Qatar – CNN
Washington and Doha have quietly signed a deal to extend the presence of American troops at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, CNN has reported, citing unnamed US officials.
US forces will remain at the base, located in the desert southwest of Doha, for at least another ten years in line with the agreement, the broadcaster reported on Wednesday.
Al Udeid, which has been the biggest US military installation in the Middle East since 2003, can host up to 10,000 servicemen. It is also used by the Qatari and British air forces.
The deal, which hasn’t been announced publicly, was struck “at a time when Qatar has come under growing scrutiny for hosting senior Hamas leaders,” CNN stressed.
Officials in Doha responded to criticism by reminding that the Palestinian armed group Hamas was only allowed to open a political office in Qatar in 2012 at the behest of then-US President Barack Obama.
According to the broadcaster, the extension of the American presence at Al Udeid “highlights Washington’s reliance on the tiny Gulf country,” which played a key role in mediating the release of US captives held by Hamas.
Washington has stood behind Israel amid its military operation in Gaza, launched in response to the October 7 Hamas attack on the country in which some 1,200 people were killed and 240 others taken hostage.
However, US President Joe Biden has criticized the Israel Defence Forces over “indiscriminate” bombing of the Palestinian enclave, saying that the Jewish state risks losing international support over such policies. The death toll from the Israeli attacks on Gaza has surpassed 22,000, according to the Palestinian enclave's health ministry.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Al Udeid in December, but said nothing about the extension deal. He only stated that Washington and Doha “will formally take steps forward to expand and reinforce our bilateral defense relationship.” According to Austin, this will happen through “Qatar’s commitment to contribute significant resources to increase capabilities here at Al Udeid Air Base, and that will support both of our forces for years to come.”