Security

Joint military drills strengthen US-Qatari ties

By Ragheb al-Sanea in Doha

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Qatari and US military officers take part in the first day of joint Special Forces exercises for the 2017-2018 training year on October 15th, 2017. [Photo circulated on social media]

Joint military exercises between Qatari Special Forces and their US counterparts have a range of political and military objectives, in light of the political circumstances in the Gulf and wider Middle East, experts told Al-Mashareq.

The exercises strengthen Qatari-US relations and from a military standpoint, they enhance the capabilities of both sides and help to familiarise US forces with a different kind of operating environment, they said.

The latest joint exercise between the Qatari Special Forces and the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Arabian Peninsula, took place over a five-day period in October.

It was part of the training programme launched end of 2016 and which continued till early 2017, Joint Special Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Hamad bin Abdullah al-Fetais al-Marri told Qatar TV in October.

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Joint Special Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Hamad bin Abdullah al-Fetais al-Marri stands with the military attaché at the US Embassy, Col. David Keesey at the launch of joint exercises between the two countries. [Photo circulated on social media]

"The second phase of the training that started today will go on until the end of 2019. It includes numerous exercises and manoeuvres inside and outside Qatar," he said.

These exercises "come within the framework of joint military co-operation, especially with regard to the defence aspect and strengthening the defensive capabilities of Qatari forces", Qatari military expert Riyad al-Ali told Al-Mashareq.

The majority of Qatar's military forces, including all branches of the ground, air and naval forces, have received US training, he said, noting that the two sides have taken part in joint exercises in the past.

"The joint exercises between the two sides facilitate any necessary action that might need to be taken on the ground in response to any emergency situation," al-Ali said.

The drills enable each side to become familiar with how the other operates, and make the development and implementation of emergency plans easier, he said.

Another facet of these drills is that through them, the US aims to send a message to Iran and its allies that it has a good relationship with Qatar, even as Iran tries to intimate otherwise, he said.

They also allow the US side to train in the region's marine environment, in close proximity to Iran, thus better preparing for any intervention to stop or prevent Iranian forces from expanding, al-Ali said.

Qatar key partner in Arabian Peninsula

"The US considers Qatar to be a key partner in the Arabian Peninsula, so it is natural that the two sides would have full military co-operation throughout the year," international affairs researcher Mahmoud Abdel-Moneim told Al-Mashareq.

The recent exercises came amid high political tension between the Gulf states and Qatar, which underscores the emphasis the US places on the need for reaching a just political solution that satisfies all parties, he said.

The US "has demonstrated that it maintains a neutral position", he added, noting that "this is a good opportunity to strengthen and develop bilateral relations, seeing as military co-operation is a key to all other forms of co-operation".

"The US has in Qatar one of the largest military bases in the world, namely the al-Udeid military base, on which the Pentagon relies heavily in all US military activities in the Gulf region in particular and the Middle East region," he said.

"Thus its existence facilitates the year-round presence of American trainers to enhance the capabilities of the Qatari military forces," he added.

Strengthening Qatar's capabilities

"It is universally known that the US and other countries that are major arms manufacturers and exporters train the armies they arm and conduct joint manoeuvers and military exercises with them on a regular basis," military expert and retired Egyptian officer Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.

In 2017, he noted, the US conducted joint training exercises with Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE and Egypt.

"It is possible to consider these exercises as a routine activity conducted by the armies to achieve several objectives," he said.

These include training forces on the use of new weapons and on new military tactics, as well as training participating troops on acclimating to new terrains.

At this time, joint military exercises to confront the threat of terrorism "are more necessary than before, as confronting the terrorists requires special capabilities and tactics that differ from those used by conventional armies", Ahmed noted.

"The US and all countries of the world seek to take advantage of any opportunity to become acquainted with new tactics and capabilities that may be more advanced and successful in confronting the terrorists," he said.

From a purely military standpoint, "it is important for the US to strengthen the capabilities of Qatar’s special and naval forces, given the existence of the US military base near Doha", he said.

This will help both parties repel any attempt by terrorists to target it, he said.

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