Before 9/11, ensuring the free flow of resources from the Persian Gulf was the primary reason for our military engagement in the area. Since 9/11, countering ISIS and similar terrorist groups and deterring Iran have been the primary reasons for U.S. forces in the Gulf region. Through it all, Qatar has been a strategic security partner and a vital ally to America.
Today’s rift among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) poses a challenge for the United States and our relationships with the individual members. The continuing goodwill and support of our friends in the Gulf remains critical to our military operations in the region. Among these friends, our relationship with Qatar is particularly important.
U.S.—Qatari military cooperation dates to 1991 when, during the First Gulf War, Doha hosted coalition forces operating from Qatari territory. This supportive relationship has continued with the Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA), signed in June 1992, allowing stationing and operations of U.S. forces from Qatar.
Over 10,000 American troops are currently waging war against ISIS and supporting our other security interests in the region from Qatar. Doha has enabled these operations by spending over $1 billion to construct Al Udeid Air Base, the logistics, command and basing hub for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) FORWARD as well as the home of U.S. Special Operations Command Central Command (SOCCENT) and U.S. Forces Central Command (AFCENT).
The unique strategic capabilities of Al Udeid make it essential to American and anti-ISIS coalition missions. For example, it is currently the only regional base capable of accommodating B-52s used in strikes against ISIS. The flight operation numbers are startling. Since 2014, our forces have planned and executed over 18,000 strikes against extremists in the region from Al Udeid.
In addition to Al Udeid, Camp As Saliyah Army Base in Qatar serves as a pre-positioning facility for equipment and materiel used by American combat forces throughout the region during times of crisis. The loss of Al Udeid, As Saliyah, or both, would represent a major blow to America’s strategic capabilities in the region.
U.S. military presence in Qatar represents not only the spearhead of combat operations against violent extremism, it also enables American forces to prepare for, and to act against if need be, other threats — and in effect, guard against wider risks.
Iran, by promulgating an extremist, violent ideology across national boundaries, through such agencies as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), remains a significant threat to regional stability and security. The 10,000-plus U.S. troops stationed in Qatar act as a counterweight to deter an increase in aggression from Tehran.
Currently, Iran’s conflict with America and its allies is limited to proxy wars. However, the time may come when the role of the American troops stationed in Qatar moves beyond deterrence to an active engagement role. As the world becomes increasingly dangerous, placing our nation and its citizens at risk, we must continue to partner with other states willing to stand with us against those who seek our mutual destruction.
The U.S.—Qatar military relationship has never been more vital to U.S. national security interests and the stability of the region at-large. The recently reported sale of F-15s and the port visits of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships are evidence of the enduring relationship. Together, Doha and Washington are acting in concert against violent extremism, while deterring bad behavior in the Gulf.
America’s partnership with Qatar is a visible symbol of the United States’ commitment to the peace and prosperity of the region. That partnership is an essential element of our strategic global presence and should be seen as a model for enhancing U.S. security in other regions.
Lt. Gen. John Castellaw served in the Marines for 36 years including tours as the deputy commanding general, Marine Forces Central Command and as the chief of staff, Central Command.
Monte Palmer, Ph.D., is professor emeritus at Florida State University and a former director of the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut. His recent books include, "The Politics of the Middle East, Islamic Extremism," (with Princess Palmer) and "Egypt and the Game of Terror" (a novel).
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.