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On Monday, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government and the Maldives all severed diplomatic ties with Qatar. The move has ignited the biggest crisis the Arab world has seen in years and U.S. President Donald Trump quickly waded into the bitter row, lambasting Qatar in a series of tweets. Trump joined the Gulf states in accusing Qatar of funding extremism, saying that his recent visit to Saudi Arabia "was already paying off" and that Monday’s events might mark the "beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism".
Despite Trump’s tweets and the allegations of funding terrorism, Qatar actually hosts the largest U.S. base in the Middle East, a key facility in the fight against ISIS. Al Udeid Air Base is located 20 miles southwest of Doha and hosts an estimated 10,000 U.S. military personnel. Qatar invested over $1 billion to construct the base which has a 1,200ft long runway and is capable of accommodating up to 120 aircraft. The U.S. Combined Air Operations Center is located there, providing command and control of U.S. and allied air power throughout the region, especially over Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Saturday, April 9, 2016. The U.S. Air Force deployed the bombers to take part in the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State group. (Staff Sgt. Corey Hook/U.S. Air Force via AP) Monday’s turn of events have put the Pentagon and State Department officials in a bind. In the wake of Trump’s Twitter tirade, the Defense Department attempted to limit the diplomatic fallout by praising Qatar for hosting U.S. forces and for its "enduring commitment to regional security". On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said "we recognize that Qatar has made great efforts to stop the financing of terrorism but they still have a lot of work to do". Al Udeid is set to become even more vital to American interests in the Middle East in the weeks ahead as a U.S. backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters continue their offensive towards the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.
The following infographic shows estimated U.S. troop levels in selected Middle Eastern countries, based on numbers from news reports, the most recent Index of U.S. Military Strength and the Defense Department. Qatar’s importance to American military efforts in the region is blatantly clear, playing host to the largest concentration of troops after Kuwait. The oldest U.S. military presence is found in neighboring Bahrain, which is home to the Naval Support Activity Bahrain and the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Some 7,000 American service members are still based there, both at the naval installation and nearby Isa Air Base.
* Click below to enlarge (charted by Statista ) Estimated number of U.S. troops based in Middle Eastern countries Statista
Estimated number of U.S. troops based in Middle Eastern countries