Qatar’s Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah announced during a visit to Washington, DC on Jan. 28 that his country will expand the American Al Udeid Air Base.
The expansion will add more than 200 new housing units for officers and their families.
“It will very soon become a family-oriented place for our American friends there. We want more of the families to be stable and feel more comfortable in their stay,” al-Attiyah said at an event at the Heritage Foundation.
Al-Attiyah praised the U.S.-Qatar relationship, saying that the Qatari Military has learned much from their American partners. He also said that Qatar is interested in making the Al Udeid base permanent.
“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.
The Qatari defense minister repeated the plans to make Al Udeid a permanent U.S. base during a meeting on Jan. 30 with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
The base currently houses around 10,000 US military personnel and has been essential for air operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
Qatar and the U.S. signed a military cooperation agreement after Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The Al Udeid Air Base was built in 1996, and the U.S. military moved its operations there in 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq.
The base is now the home of the U.S. Air Force Central Command and has proven essential for American air operations in the region.
“Qatar is strategically placed. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria — these are all hotspots in the region. I am not exaggerating when I say 80% of aerial refueling in the region is from Udeid,” al-Attiyah said. “We’re the ones that keep your birds flying.”
Military personnel from the U.K. and other allies are also stationed at Al Udeid.
The expansion comes at a diplomatically tough time for Qatar. Last June, Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia instituted an economic and political embargo on Qatar, cutting off all diplomatic relations. The countries claim that Qatar supports terrorism and is destabilizing the region.
The embargo has not had the desired effect so far. Qatar has managed to deepen ties with the U.S. as well as other countries like Turkey, Oman, and Iran, allowing it to circumvent the blockade in certain ways.