A Mississippi Air National Guard KC-135 assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at al Udeid AB, Qatar, prepares to refuel a US Navy F/A-18C over Southwest Asia on May 21, 2017. Despite the decision by several GCC countries to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, as well as air, sea, and land connections, USAF continued to operate out of al Udeid as of June 5, 2017. ANG photo by MSgt. Andrew J. Moseley.
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and other Muslim nations on Monday cut diplomatic ties as well as air, sea, and land connections with Qatar, saying the Gulf Cooperation Council country supports terrorism.
Saudi Arabia made the decision “as a result of grave violations being committed by the authorities in Doha over the past years,” according to a statement posted by the official Saudi news agency.
In the statement, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, “Iran-backed terrorist groups,” and other extremists.
Just hours after the announcement, commercial airlines in the region began suspending flights between Doha and cities in the four other countries. However, US military aircraft continued to conduct missions out of Al Udeid Air Base, said Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, spokesman for Air Forces Central Command.
That included flights in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Freedom’s Sentinel, and chartered flights that carry service members to and from the area, Pickart said.
“The United States and the coalition are grateful to the Qataris for their longstanding support of our presence and their enduring commitment to regional security,” Pickart said in an email to Air Force Magazine.
“We encourage all our partners in the region to work towards common solutions that enable regional security,” he continued.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking at a press conference in Australia, said he believes there is “a growing list of some irritants in the region that have been there for some time, and obviously they have now bubbled up to a level that countries decided they needed to take action in an effort to have those differences addressed.”
Tillerson said the US “would certainly encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” adding that “it is important that the GCC remain unified.”
Still, he said he did not expect the move to have an impact on the “unified fight against terrorism in the region or globally.”
Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was surprised at the decision by the countries to sever diplomatic relations, and said the move was “unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions,” according to a translation by Al Jazeera.
Qatar “has been subjected to a campaign of lies,” the statement continued, alleging that the move revealed “a hidden plan to undermine the State of Qatar.”
Al Udeid is the home of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, and more than 11,000 US and coalition troops are deployed to or assigned to the base. Nearly 1,000 of those troops work in the Combined Air Operations Center, and an aircraft takes off or lands there about every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Pickart said.