Qatari soldiers ordered to quit Bahrain coalition base

Saudi, Turkish ties fray

DOHA, June 18, (Agencies): Bahrain has ordered Qatari troops serving with a coalition fighting the Islamic State group to leave its territory, a source with knowledge of the situation said on Sunday. The soldiers, part of the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) which is headquartered in Bahrain, had been asked to leave the coalition and may depart within the next 48 hours, the source told AFP.

“The Bahrainis told the US general in command of the base that Qatari soldiers must leave,” the source said on condition of anonymity. “They are still in the base but likely to leave within the next two days.” The news comes as the Gulf faces the biggest diplomatic crisis in recent years, with regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and some of its allies suspending ties with gas-rich Qatar over accusations the emirate bankrolled Islamist extremists and had ties to rival Iran. Direct tensions between Manama and Doha have been further exacerbated after Bahrain accused Qatar of directly interfering in its internal affairs. Qatar has also denied those charges.

The source did not detail the number of Qatari troops based in Bahrain. One analyst estimated it was no more than a “handful of officers”. Qatar has deployed troops with NAVCENT since 2014, according to one official. NAVCENT is part of the US Central Command whose area of operation includes the Middle East and Asia.

As part of their operations, numerous air strikes against IS targets in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have been conducted from Qatar’s Al- Udeid, the largest US base in the region. Washington is involved in diplomatic efforts to resolve the impasse in the region but US policy has proved unpredictable.

President Donald Trump has sided with Saudi Arabia and its allies, including Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt, claiming Doha had “historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level”. However, Pentagon and State Department offi cials have scrambled to reassure the emirate. The United States last week agreed to a $12 billion sale of F-15 fi ghters to Qatar. Ties strained over Qatar Ties between Saudi Arabia and Turkey have begun to fray due to sharply different policies toward Qatar.

Saudi Arabia has led other Arab nations in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar over allegations the small Gulf nation backs terror groups and that its policies, including its support for Islamist groups, threatens the region.

Qatar denies it backs terror groups and says the decision to isolate it is politically motivated. Turkey, which is a strong backer of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, has criticized the measures against Qatar and authorized the deployment of additional troops to Qatar in a show of support.

Turkey also sent additional supplies of dairy products to Qatar’s capital, Doha, after Saudi Arabia sealed shut Qatar’s only land border, impacting a significant source of food imports. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held talks late Friday with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman about the crisis engulfing Qatar.

No statement was issued after their meeting. Saudi tour guides Khalid Abdullah and Edris Ismail told The Associated Press on Sunday that some Saudis are cancelling planned visits to Turkey for the upcoming Muslim Eid holiday, which starts next week. Saudi Arabia says around 250,000 Saudis visited Turkey last year. An Arabic hashtag on Twitter has also appeared calling for Saudis to cut ties with Turkey.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised eyebrows over the weekend when he said King Salman agreed to consider an offer to establish a Turkish military base in the kingdom alongside a Turkish base in Qatar. In an interview aired Thursday with Portuguese broadcaster RTP, Erdogan said work on the Turkish base in Qatar began in 2014 with the aim of supporting regional security. Erdogan added that he had previously raised the possibility of a Turkish base in Saudi Arabia and said the Saudi king agreed to consider the offer.

The official Saudi Press Agency released a statement Saturday strongly rejecting any such offer. “Saudi Arabia cannot allow Turkey to establish military bases on its territories,” the statement, adding that the country “has no need for this.” Ties between Saudi Arabia and Turkey had become strained under King Salman’s predecessor over Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood during the height of Arab Spring protests.

Those ties, however, had begun to improve under Salman after he aligned Saudi Arabia closer with Turkey and other Sunni Muslim countries in a bid to counter Shiite-ruled Iran. The chief executive of Sharjah National Oil Corp, the emirate’s stateowned oil and gas firm, said on Sunday he does not expect flows of natural gas from Qatar to the United Arab Emirates to be interrupted by the diplomatic dispute in the region. “We have not seen any impact yet on the gas side with regards to Qatar …The pipeline between Abu Dhabi and Qatar has not been impacted,” Hatem Al-Mosa told reporters. “We have not seen and do not expect to see any disruption of gas supplies from the Dolphin pipeline.”

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