Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III today praised the strong defense ties between the U.S. and Qatar as he met with senior Qatari leaders at Al Udeid Air Base in the Gulf nation.

As part of his multiday trip through the Middle East, the secretary held separate meetings with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who also serves as minister of foreign affairs, and Deputy Prime Minister Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah, who also serves as minister of state for defense affairs. During those meetings, Austin underscored the United States’ commitment to the strategic defense relationship.  

According to a summary of the discussions, the secretary thanked both leaders for “Qatar’s critical efforts to secure the release of 110 hostages held by Hamas and expressed hope that Hamas will release the remaining hostages.”  

He reiterated the need for regional de-escalation and underscored that the increase in U.S. military posture is a message to state and nonstate actors seeking to escalate, according to the summary. 

In remarks ahead of his meeting with the Qatari defense minister, Austin expressed gratitude for his counterpart’s “tireless coordination” and continued support for strengthening the defense relationship as he welcomed new investments by Qatar at Al Udeid Air Base— a critical, regional node for U.S. troops operating in the Middle East.  

“I especially wanted to be here today to share that Qatar and the United States will formally takes steps forward to expand and reinforce our bilateral defense relationship,” Austin said. “We’ll do this through Qatar’s commitment to contribute significant resources to increase capabilities here at Al Udeid Air Base, and that will support both of our forces for years to come.” 

He said the presence of U.S. troops at the base “allows the United States to support a range of critical missions in the region and respond to challenges to our shared security.” 

“Our robust presence here makes our defense partnership even stronger,” Austin said. 

Qatar, which was recently designated as a major non-NATO ally has been a critical regional partner for the U.S. That partnership remains unwavering, Austin said.  

“In times of crisis, Qatar answers our call,” Austin said, noting Qatar’s assistance in securing hostages held by Hamas and, earlier this year, its crucial role in the release of five American citizens from imprisonment in Iran.  

Austin also noted Qatar’s assistance in 2021 as the U.S. military completed the evacuation to safety of more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan — one of the largest air lifts on record.  

“These are just a few reasons why the department welcomes this step forward,” he said. “It’s a milestone for our defense partnership. We look forward to doing more together and to make this region more stable and secure.” 

Austin also traveled to Manama, Bahrain, for meetings today with Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa; Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa; and Commander in Chief of Bahrain’s Defense Force Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. 

Austin thanked the leaders for hosting U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, headquartered in Manama and for Bahrain’s “leadership in regional integration and maritime security efforts,” according to a summary of the meeting.  

The meeting follows Austin’s Monday announcement of a new multinational maritime security initiative in response to the recent escalation in Houthi attacks originating from Yemen. The attacks have threatened the flow of commerce and endangered mariners operating in the Red Sea.  

The security initiative—Operation Prosperity Garden—brings together forces from the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain to address the challenges in the region and ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.  

The forces will operate under the umbrella of the Combined Maritime Forces and the leadership of Task Force 153, a U.S. Navy-led initiative focused on maritime security in the Red Sea. 

“Countries that seek to uphold the foundational principle of freedom of navigation must come together to tackle the challenge posed by this nonstate actor launching ballistic missiles and uncrewed aerial vehicles at merchant vessels from many nations lawfully transiting international waters,” Austin said in a statement announcing the initiative.  

“This is an international challenge that demands collective action,” he said.  

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