Qatar, US conduct joint naval exercises in Persian Gulf

Military ships are seen during a naval exercise by US and Qatari troops in the Persian Gulf on June 16, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

The Qatari and US naval forces have concluded a three-day joint military exercise in the Persian Gulf in the wake of a recent move by a number of Arab countries to sever their diplomatic relations with Doha, and close their borders and airspace with the gas-rich kingdom.

The vessels, which took part in the drill off Qatar's east coast, included gunboats as well as coastguard and supply vessels. Four ships from the US Navy had participated in the joint exercise.

Two US Navy vessels arrived in Doha on Wednesday. The development came on the same day that the United States and Qatar have signed a deal for the purchase of F-15 fighter jets with an initial cost of 12 billion dollars.

The aircraft purchase was completed by Qatari Minister of Defense Khalid al-Attiyah and his US counterpart Jim Mattis in Washington DC.

The Pentagon said in a statement that the deal would “increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar.”

Qatari Staff Commander Mohammed Desmal al-Kuwari said the joint naval exercise was requested by the US Navy “a few weeks back.”

He added that military drills, involving Qatar and its allies, would continue.

“There are many allies asking for exercises within our waters. Many navies from our European allies are asking for exercises,” Kuwari pointed out.

The senior Qatari military official further noted that his country’s naval force and that of the United States carry out joint exercises off the Qatari coast nearly four times a year.

Qatari troops take part in a joint naval exercise with US troops in the Persian Gulf on June 16, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Kuwari highlighted that Qatar's navy was carrying out its duties “as normal” irrespective of the diplomatic row in the Persian Gulf region.

Qatar hosts the biggest US military base in the Middle East, with more than 11,000 troops deployed or assigned to al-Udeid airbase. More than 100 aircraft operate from there.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain all cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5, after officially accusing it of “sponsoring terrorism.”

The administration of Saudi-backed and resigned Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, Libya, the Maldives, Djibouti, Senegal and the Comoros later joined the camp in ending diplomatic ties. Jordan downgraded its diplomatic ties as well.

Qatar's Foreign Ministry announced that the decisions to cut diplomatic ties were unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions.

"Qatar has been the target of a systematic incitement campaign that promoted outright lies, which indicates that there was a prior intent to harm the state," the statement said.

On June 9, Qatar strongly dismissed allegations of supporting terrorism after the Saudi regime and its allies blacklisted dozens of individuals and entities purportedly associated with Doha.

“The recent joint statement issued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE regarding a ‘terror finance watch list’ once again reinforces baseless allegations that hold no foundation in fact,” the Qatari government said in a statement.

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