Pentagon officials are denying reports that the U.S. military is planning to “liquidate” Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar and Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, two of U.S Central Command’s main air combat bases in the Middle East.
‘Both Incirlik and Al Udeid are considered critical to U.S. force projection into the Middle East, and have been important launching pads in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The claim that the U.S. is abandoning those bases, attributed to anonymous sources, appears in a March 22 article by DEBKAfile, an Israeli website that reports on military intelligence and security news, and was picked up by several other publications in the Middle East.
“Plans to speed up the transfer of the big US CENTCOM base in Qatar to Saudi Arabia were approved by President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Muhamed bin Salman when they met at the White House on Tuesday, March 20 ... say DEBKAfile’s military sources,” the authors of the story wrote.
DEBKAfile’s sources also claimed that “despite repeated denials, the Trump administration is in the process of another momentous move, packing up its air force and quitting Incirlik in southern Turkey.”
The Wall Street Journal reported March 11 that the U.S. has curbed combat flights out of Incirlik and that permanent cutbacks in combat operations could be in the works, citing U.S. military sources.
Informal restrictions imposed by the Turkish military on U.S. flights out of Incirlik, allegedly because of the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Ankara, contributed to a decision to scale back operations at the base, the Wall Street Journal reported.
But reports suggesting the U.S. plans to move those operations elsewhere were denied by Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White over Twitter.
“There is zero credibility to news reports asserting the U.S. is leaving Incirlik and Al Udeid AB in Turkey and Qatar,” White wrote. “These reports are unhelpful and feed mistrust and division among regional partners at a time when we need to work together to address shared security concerns.”
U.S. Central Command also tweeted that the reports are “false and without merit.”
The U.S. presence at Incirlik Air Base has been seen as an important bargaining chip for both sides in ongoing tensions between Turkey and the United States over U.S. support to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria. Turkey considers the YPG a terror group.
Qatar’s defense minister, Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, told the Global POLITICO in early February that he hopes the base will expand, not shrink.
“We have 11,000 of your brave men and women who are working in Qatar at the Al Udeid Air Base, and we want to make their stay comfortable,” al-Attiyah said. “So we have discussed together how to transfer this air base from being temporary to become a permanent air base by building more houses, schools, and all the necessary needs to make it comfortable to our American colleagues who live there.”
DEBKAfile’s claim that Trump and Salman discussed transferring Al Udeid’s assets “to the Prince Sultan air base in central Saudi Arabia” comes at a time when Qatar and Saudi Arabia are embroiled in a diplomatic dispute of their own.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.