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Qatar to expand US airbase as defence chief visits DC

Al Udeid, which houses almost 10,000 US personnel, serves as one of the most crucial overseas American military bases.

US airbase

Visiting Washington DC, Qatar's Defence Minister Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Attiyah said his country will expand the American airbase that currently houses about 10,000 US military personnel.

The expansion at the Al Udeid base - home of the US Central Command - will allow for 200 more housing units for officers and their families, Attiyah said.

"It will very soon become family oriented place for our American friends there. We want more of the families to be stable and feel more comfortable in their stay," Attiyah said at an event held by the Heritage Foundation, a US-based think-thank.

Al Udeid serves as one of the most important overseas US military bases with operations throught the Middle East launched from Qatar.

In the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, the United States and Qatar signed a military cooperation agreement that deepened defence. 

READ MORE: Qatar-Gulf crisis: All the latest updates

The US military moved to Qatar in 2003 after evacuating the Prince Sultan air force base in Saudi Arabia.

Al Udeid also houses military personnel from the United Kingdom and other allies.

"Qatar is strategically placed. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria - these are all hotspots in region. I am not exaggerating when I say 80 percent of aerial refuelling in the region is from Udeid," Attiyah said.

"We're the ones that keep your birds flying."

Attiyah added the US presence has been beneficial for Qatar's armed forces. "We're learning a lot on the military side by flying side-by-side. We are learning from the Americans, it's a real operational environment."

In June, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar and imposed a land, sea and air blockade after accusing it of supporting terrorism and extremism.

Qatar has strongly denied the allegations. 

"What's happening in the region in the past seven months isn't good for the secure flow of energy. Keeping the GCC in coherent status is very important for a safe and smooth flow of energy," said Attiyah.

Attiyah reiterated Qatar wants to end the GCC crisis and the United States plays an important role.

"At the moment, I think the only person who can solve the GCC crisis is President Trump. And I think he can solve it in a phone call," he said.

"Nobody is benefiting from what is happening in the GCC except for terror groups," Attiyah added.

"We're open to dialogue. We can discuss anything. The only thing we don't accept is imposing conditions on us or tampering with our sovereignty."

"We're tough people. We don't accept pre-conditions. But at the same time, we're very open to discuss issues that worry them."

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