DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar’s emir is persona non grata to four U.S.-allied Arab states that accuse his wealthy Gulf nation of sponsoring extremists, but he recently received a warm welcome at the sprawling military base his troops share with thousands of American soldiers.
Qatar’s al-Udeid Air Base, a crucial staging ground for U.S. operations in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, is one of several American military outposts across the Gulf that are intended to serve as a bulwark against Iran, but now put Washington in a delicate balancing act.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut all ties to Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting extremism and being soft on Iran. Some U.S. officials have defended Qatar, but are making little headway in mediating the crisis. With its hosts at each other’s throats, the Pentagon has been placed in an awkward position.
“We’re tracking all the Gulf nations’ disputes right now,” said U.S. Air Force Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for the American military’s Central Command. “That doesn’t lessen that they are good hosts.”
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The U.S. has deepened its military relationships across the region in the nearly two decades since it helped expel Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.
The island nation of Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Kuwait, which has also sought to mediate the Qatar dispute, is home to 13,500 American troops and the forward command of U.S. Army Central. The UAE’s massive Jebel Ali port in Dubai is the Navy’s biggest port of call outside of the U.S., while American forces also fly out of al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi.
Some 10,000 American troops are stationed in Qatar, a small, energy-rich peninsular nation that sticks out like a thumb into the Persian Gulf. Most work out of the vast al-Udeid Air Base just south of the capital, Doha, which hosts the forward operating base of the U.S. military’s Central Command. By comparison, experts estimate Qatar’s own military strength at some 11,800 troops, one of the region’s smallest forces.
For years, the U.S. military wouldn’t even acknowledge the base’s location out of security concerns, at most simply describing it as being in Asia. It houses the Combined Air Operations Center, which oversees the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing campaign of the Islamic State group in Iraq and…