France bolsters military ties with Gulf


"Gulf Shield 01" took place in the UAE’s western Al-Hamra desert region near the Saudi border and the strategic Gulf, through which 40 percent of the world’s oil transit on its way out of the Strait of Hormuz.

Some 4,000 troops from the three countries took part in the 12-day military exercises, with Qatar joining the manoeuvres for the first time. Previous exercises between France and the UAE were held in 1996, 2000 and 2005.

France bolstered its military ties with the Gulf earlier this year when it signed an agreement with the UAE to set up its first permanent military base in Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest and largest of the UAE’s seven emirates.

The base is due to become operational in 2009 and will eventually host 400- 500 French army, navy and air force personnel, French officials have said.

"It will be the first such French base in the Gulf and it will face the Strait of Hormuz," a French presidential source said in January.

France is a leading military supplier to the UAE, and the two countries are linked by a 1995 defence pact under which their armed forces chiefs meet once a year and their army troops conduct around 25 joint manoeuvres per year.

In September, French Defence Minister Herve Morin announced that France plans to train Qatari army officers by opening the first foreign branch of the prestigious Saint Cyr military academy in that Gulf state.

During "Gulf Shield O1" troops simulated a war pitting two regional countries and their ally against a neighbouring state which has invaded one of the two countries.

But the nature of the manoeuvres "has nothing to do with the political situation in the region," said UAE General Fares al-Mazruai, who co-led the exercises, in reference to regional tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme.


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