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Pentagon can’t square Trump comments on Qatar

The Pentagon on Tuesday said it could not square President Trump’s tweets about Qatar and terrorism with its own statement about the country’s enduring commitment to regional security.

“I can’t help you with that,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in response to a question about reconciling the president’s social media remarks and Department of Defense comments about the U.S. ally.

“I will only tell you that we have, with regard to our bases there, continued presence in our operations.”

Trump shocked much of Washington on Tuesday when he took credit for the decision of Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations to break off diplomatic relations with Qatar.

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“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Trump wrote Tuesday morning. “Leaders pointed to Qatar - look!”

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off.  They said they would take a hard line on funding …. extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!” Trump continued over two additional tweets.

The president’s comments were strikingly different in tone and substance from the message sent a day earlier by Defense Secretary James Mattis and other U.S. officials.

They appeared to double down on Saudi concerns that Qatar was supporting extremist groups such as Hamas and al Qaeda. This despite the fact that Qatar hosts a U.S. military base that includes about 10,000 troops.

The comments also appeared out of line with remarks Trump made during his visit to Saudi Arabia last month, when he described Qatar as a "crucial partner" in the region. 

The Pentagon on Tuesday commended Qatar for hosting U.S. forces and its “enduring commitment to regional security.”

Davis said the Defense Department is watching the situation very closely in Qatar and “would encourage all of the parties involved to work together.”

Davis declined to answer a question about whether Qatar supports terrorism, saying: “I’m not the right person to ask that. I consider them a host to our very important base at Al Udeid.”

When asked whether Trump’s Twitter messages could impact U.S. forces’ safety in Qatar, Davis said the Pentagon has not taken additional security measures.

“We already have very high levels of security. We have not made any changes,” he said.

He did not know whether there have been high-level discussions between Pentagon officials and Qatar since the president’s tweets.

Davis also insisted that the dispute between Qatar and its Arab neighbors has not impacted operations at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar’s capital of Doha.

“We hope for a quick resolution and we have no intention of altering our current operations, not only in Qatar but anywhere in the [Gulf Cooperation Council]. That includes important bases we have around the region, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain,” Davis said.

He added that there are ongoing diplomatic discussions, “but at the military operations level it has not had an impact.”

A State Department official would not comment on Trump's Twitter messages, but told The Hill that the country "continues to make efforts to stop the financing of terrorist groups, including prosecuting suspected financiers, freezing assets, and introducing stringent controls to its banking system. While they have made progress, they recognize more work remains to be done."
 
"The United States’ relationship with Qatar is strong and we cooperate with Qatar in the fight against terror," the official added.
 
The official also said the agency was notified of the Qatar split "only immediately prior to the announcement," and is "pressing the parties involved to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible."
 
Pentagon officials are still assessing the effects from Monday’s decision by several Arab countries.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt on Monday closed all land, sea and air borders with the country. Yemen, the Maldives and Libya's eastern-based government followed suit later in the day.

The split comes as U.S.-backed fighters in Syria have started a military campaign to recapture the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

This story was updated at 3:23 p.m.