Joint army drills with Gulf Arab allies cancelled ‘out of respect for the concept of inclusiveness’, US army says.
The US military has halted some exercises with its Gulf Arab allies over the ongoing diplomatic crisis targeting Qatar, trying to use its influence to end the months-long dispute, authorities told The Associated Press.
While offering few details, the acknowledgement by the US military’s Central Command shows the concern it has over the conflict gripping the Gulf, home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and crucial bases for its campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group, as well as the war in Afghanistan.
The Gulf crisis began June 5, when Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched an economic boycott against Qatar, closing off the nation’s land border and its air and sea routes.
The quartet of Arab nations pointed to Qatar’s alleged support of “extremists” and ties to Iran.
Qatar long has denied supporting “extremists” and shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran that makes its citizens have the highest per capita income in the world.
Initially, US military officials said the boycott and dispute had no effect on their operations.
Qatar is home to the massive al-Udeid Air Base, the forward headquarters of Central Command which oversees the US-led coalition’s bombing campaign against ISIL, also known as ISIS, and manages a direct line to Russia to manage Syria’s crowded skies.
But as the dispute went on, James Mattis, the US defence secretary, travelled to Doha to offer his support. The Trump administration also agreed to an in-the-works sale of F-15 fighter jets to Qatar for $12bn.
Air Force Colonel John Thomas, a Central Command spokesperson, acknowledged the US would be cutting back on the exercises.
“We are opting out of some military exercises out of respect for the concept of inclusiveness and shared regional interests,” Thomas said in a statement.
“We will continue to encourage all partners to work together toward the sort of common solutions that enable security and stability in the region.”
Officials in Qatar did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while the boycotting nations have not acknowledged the disruption in military exercises with the US.
The US military holds exercises in part to build the confidence of local forces, many of which use American-made equipment.
Among the exercises likely to be affected is Eagle Resolve, an annual exercise held since 1999 that has GCC countries send forces alongside Americans to simulate working as a multinational force in battle.
This year’s Eagle Resolve exercise, held in Kuwait in March, involved 1,000 US troops.
US and Gulf allies have regularly held joint, smaller-scale exercises in the region.