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Qatar upgrading facilities for US families at Al Udeid

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III is loaded at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Dec. 21, 2017. Qatar wants to make the air base more family friendly for U.S. forces in the hopes that the strategic military hub will be counted as one of the Pentagon's permanent overseas installations.

PAUL LABBE/U.S. AIR FORCE

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 1, 2018

Qatar wants to make Al Udeid Air Base more family friendly for U.S. forces in the hopes that the strategic military hub will be counted as one of the Pentagon’s permanent overseas installations.

Qatar Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, speaking in Washington Tuesday, said a planned expansion would include 200 new family housing units for the American servicemembers and their families, new state-of-the-art schools and recreational facilities.

“The initiative aim(s) to serve the needs of the community living in Al Udeid and ease their transition and assimilation,” al-Attiyah said.

His comments came during a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, both of whom touted the long-standing military alliance with Qatar.

The base has served as the primary operations hub for the campaign against the Islamic State group and played a crucial role in the Iraq War.

Expanding the welcome mat for U.S. forces at Al Udeid is one way Doha can enhance its relationship with Washington, at a time when Qatar is increasingly isolated.

In June, Saudi Arabia and a contingent of other Gulf states imposed an economic blockade on Qatar in connection with persistent complaints that it secretly supported terrorist groups.

Soon after the blockade was announced, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a tweet that appeared to take Saudi Arabia’s side in the feud.

Since then, the U.S. has not signaled any interest in pivoting away from Al Udeid.

Tillerson said Tuesday that Qatar had recently moved to improve efforts at combating terrorism, including increased sharing of information on terrorists and those who finance them.

“We have participated in counterterrorism technical training and taken steps to improve aviation security,” he said. “We look forward to building on this foundation and implementing (the) next steps.”

The U.S. began operating out of Al Udeid in 2001. While not a secret location, for years the Pentagon avoided calling the facility by name and drawing attention to operations there because of Qatar’s sensitivities.

That has changed in recent years, and now Qatar touts the American presence and the roughly 11,000 troops who operate at Al Udeid.

The quality of some facilities at Al Udeid was at one point a cause of concern. In 2016, complaints from troops about moldy showers and temporary living quarters got the attention of Congress, which pressured military officials to remedy the situation.

At an event Sunday at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, al-Attiyah said he wanted 200 more housing units for military families so the base “will very soon become a family-oriented place for our American friends.”

“Colleagues in the U.S. Department of Defense are reluctant to mention the word permanent, but we are working from our side to make it permanent,” al-Attiyah said.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

 

Airmen from the 557th Expeditionary Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers Squadron work on a new structure for vehicle maintenance at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Dec. 20, 2017. Qatar wants to make the air base more family friendly for U.S. forces.
PHIL SPECK/U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD

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