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‘Tipping point’ seen over US presence at Qatar air base

In this Sept. 11, 2017 photo released by Qatar News Agency, the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, center front, poses for a photo with Emiri Air Force at al-Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar. (QNA via AP)
LONDON: The US is likely to pull its forces from the Al-Udeid air base in Qatar should Doha not change its ways, American defense experts told a London conference Thursday.
The base is home to more than 10,000 US service members, but has entered the spotlight amid the diplomatic row between Qatar and some of its neighbors over Doha’s alleged support for terror groups.
Gen. Chuck Wald, former deputy commander of the US European Command, said Qatar’s alleged behavior meant a “tipping point” was approaching.
“It would be hugely detrimental for Qatar to continue down the path that they’re going right now,” he said.
“I think the United States at some point is going to have enough of it and say, ‘we’re leaving’.”
Wald said that the US could “very easily” move from Al-Udeid air base to Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Jordan.
“Militarily it’s doable … The US military can move around very easily, in a big way,” he said.
Dov Zakheim, a former US Department of Defense official under the administration of George W. Bush — who said he helped negotiate the expansion of Al-Udeid — said Qatar presents “a huge dilemma” to the US.
“Qatar for a long long time has tried to punch very much above its weight: This idea that they’ll talk to everybody and anybody,” he said. “The trouble with trying to do that, is that when you’re dealing with Iran you’re playing with fire.”
Zakheim said that Qatar’s alleged support for Iran, which some claim undermines regional stability, could prompt the US to leave the base.
“There is nothing that guarantees that we will permanently stay in Al-Udeid,” he said. “If Qatar continues to operate at cross purposes with its neighbors and with us, then at some point … we might find somewhere else.”
The experts were addressing the “Qatar, Global Security & Stability Conference” held in London on Thursday. The event aimed to give voice to Qatari opposition members amid the diplomatic dispute that Doha is embroiled in.
Opposition member Khalid Al-Hail, spokesman for the Qatar National Democratic Party and organizer of the conference, was critical of Doha’s motives regarding the Al-Udeid air base.
“I think that the current Qatari regime uses the American base as the cover to fund terrorism and extremist acts,” he said.

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