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Boots on the ground, but not on the pitch? US men’s soccer team scraps Qatar training camp trip over soaring Middle East tensions

Boots on the ground, but not on the pitch? US men’s soccer team scraps Qatar training camp trip over soaring Middle East tensions
America’s national soccer squad has ditched plans to travel to Qatar for a training camp, citing security concerns amid ramped up hostilities in the Middle East after a US assassination strike took out a powerful Iranian general.

The US Soccer Federation announced the move in a statement on Friday, noting that “Due to the developing situation in the region, US Soccer has decided to postpone traveling to Qatar for the Men’s National Team’s scheduled January training camp.” The federation says it is now “working on alternative arrangements” for an upcoming match against Costa Rica next month.

The reversal comes on the heels of a series of American airstrikes on Iraq, one of which on Thursday night left Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and several Iraqi militia leaders dead. The killings were followed up on Friday with another strike on a convoy belonging to Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) – a grouping of Iraqi militias with links to Iran – though the militia said that the convoy was transporting medical workers, and not senior military leaders, as per initial reports.

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Some 3,750 US troops have been deployed to the Middle East since Wednesday in response to the pique in tensions, which flared up last week after a series of US airstrikes killed 25 Shia militia fighters in Iraq, sparking massive outrage in Baghdad. The ensuing protests saw pro-militia demonstrators attempt to storm the US Embassy in the Iraqi capital.

The new deployment brings the total number of US troops sent into the region since last May to just under 18,000. The massive build-up has been carried out under the pretext of a growing “Iranian threat,” though so far it has largely entailed US forces flexing their military muscles at Iran’s doorstep and launching strikes to “terminate” its top commanders.

Since 2001, the United States has operated the Al Udeid Airbase in Qatar, one of its largest military installations in the Middle East, where over 11,000 American troops and 100 aircraft are stationed. With such an impressive arsenal sitting just miles away from some of Qatar’s lavish football stadiums, it’s something of a mystery why the Soccer Federation would feel so insecure in the country.

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