US sells F-15 fighter jets to Qatar in $12B arms deal despite Trump accusations

DOHA, June 15 (Reuters) - A $12 billion deal to buy U.S. F-15 fighter jets shows Qatar has deep-rooted support from Washington, a Qatari official said on Thursday, despite President Donald Trump's repeated accusations that Doha supports terrorism.

Qatar is facing a severe economic and diplomatic boycott by Saudi Arabia and its regional allies who cut ties last week, in the worst rift among Gulf Arab states in years. They accuse Qatar of funding terrorism, fomenting regional unrest and cozying up to their enemy Iran, all of which Qatar denies.

Trump has repeatedly echoed the accusations against Qatar, even as his Defense and State Departments have tried to remain neutral in the dispute among key allies. Qatar hosts a big U.S. military base housing the headquarters of U.S. air forces in the Middle East.

On Wednesday U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signed the previously-approved Boeing plane deal with Qatari Minister of State for Defence Affairs Khalid al-Attiyah. Qatar's ambassador to the United States, Meshal Hamad al-Thani, posted a picture of the signing ceremony on Twitter.

RELATED: Countries that have cut ties with Qatar

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Countries that cut ties with Qatar

Saudi Arabia

In this photo, OPEC President, Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, and OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo talk to journalists before the beginning of a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna, Austria, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Egypt

In this photo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with the Head of the National Iraqi Alliance, Ammar Al-Hakim at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt April 18, 2017 in this handout picture courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency. Picture taken April 18, 2017. The Egyptian Presidency/Handout

United Arab Emirates

In this photo, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, center, attends the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Bahrain

In this photo, U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Maldives

In this photo, Maldives former president Mohamed Nasheed speaks during an interview with Reuters in Colombo, Sri Lanka March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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"This is of course proof that U.S. institutions are with us but we have never doubted that," a Qatari official in Doha said. "Our militaries are like brothers. America's support for Qatar is deep-rooted and not easily influenced by political changes."

A Qatari defense ministry source said the deal was for 36 jets. In November, under the administration of former President Barack Obama, the United States approved a possible sale of up to 72 F-15QA aircraft to Qatar for $21.1 billion. Boeing, the prime contractor on the sale, declined to comment.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, on a Gulf tour trying to help broker an end to the crisis, defended the plane deal.

"Just like other countries, like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt .... it is natural for Qatar to buy airplanes or parts necessary for its own defense," Cavusoglu said in Kuwait following talks with his Kuwaiti counterpart, according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency.

Turkey is friendly to Qatar and has sent food supplies since the sanctions were imposed. Kuwait has led efforts to mediate the dispute.

A European diplomat in the Gulf said the timing of the deal appeared coincidental.

"Presumably the U.S. could have delayed the deal if they'd wanted to, although I don't think there's a great connect between sales and foreign policy."

IMPORTANT AIR BASE

Qatar is an important base for the U.S. military carrying out operations against Islamic State militants and other groups in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and beyond. Al Udeid Air Base is home to more than 11,000 U.S. and coalition troops.

Two U.S. warships arrived at Hamad port in Qatar as part of a planned joint military exercise involving marine forces, Qatar's state news agency said on Wednesday.

The Pentagon said the jets sale would increase security cooperation between the United States and Qatar and help them operate together. It added that Mattis and Attiyah had also discussed the current state of operations against Islamic State and the importance of de-escalating tensions in the Gulf.

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U.S .troops are deployed in hotspots around the world, including places like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock/US Air Force

Here's a look at some of the most significant deployments for American soldiers.

In Afghanistan, approximately 9,800 US soldiers are taking part in Resolute Support, which aims to train, advise, and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions in their fight against the Taliban and other terrorist networks.

In Iraq, about 4,000 to 6,000 soldiers are taking part in Operation Inherent Resolve, which aims to eliminate the Islamic State. Only 5,262 US troops are authorized to be in Iraq, but the actual numbers have been larger for a while as commanders leverage what they call temporary — or "nonenduring" — assignments like the one involving the 82nd Airborne in Mosul.

In Syria, 500 U.S. special forces and 250 Rangers are working in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. The Pentagon is also mulling sending an additional 1,000 US service members to the war-torn country.

In Kuwait, about 15,000 soldiers are spread among Camp Arifjan, Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, and Ali Al Salem Air Base. About 3,800 soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team also deployed there late last year.

In Poland, about 3,500 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team are stationed as part of Atlantic Resolve, which seeks to halt Russian aggression. These soldiers will help train local forces and provide security, eventually fanning out to other countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary to do the same.

In Ukraine, approximately 250 Oklahoma National Guardsmen are training Ukrainian forces in support of Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine.

In Somalia, about 40 U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne division are assisting the central government in training its forces and fighting the terrorist group al-Shabab.

Photo Credit: Skye Gould/Business Insider

Of the U.S. Navy's seven fleets, three are deployed in or near potential hotspots around the world.

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Josue L. Escobosa/Released

The Navy's 6th Fleet is stationed around the Strait of Gibraltar; the 5th is by Saudi Arabia; and the 7th is near Japan and the Pacific Ocean.

 The USS Carney, Ross, Porter, and Donald Cook are part of the 6th Navy Fleet, which contains 17 ships and 12,638 sailors. 

The USS Bataan and George H.W. Bush are part of the 5th, which consists of 24 ships and 16,731 service members. The Bush is patroling the Persian Gulf, while the Bataan is south of Yemen. 

The USS Reagan, Bonhomme Richard, Carl Vinson, and Makin Island are part of the 7th, which consists of 53 ships and 37,935 sailors. 

Photo Credit: Skye Gould/Business Insider

U.S. Marines are deployed around the world to help counter the Islamic State. Some are also deployed in efforts to contain Russia and to provide security.

Photo Credit: U.S. Marine Corps

Here are some of the most important Marine deployments.

In Syria, approximately 400 Marines are taking part in Operation Inherent Resolve.

In Afghanistan, 300 Marines are taking part in Resolute Support.

In South Sudan, approximately 40 U.S. Marines are providing security to the U.S. Embassy. 

In Norway, about 300 Marines are stationed as part of a bilateral agreement between Oslo and Washington to undergo winter training and reinforce Norway's border with Russia.

Photo Credit: Skye Gould/Business Insider

While the U.S. Air Force is deployed in bases worldwide, the service most recently sent two F-35s each to Bulgaria and Estonia.

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force/Osakabe Yasuo

This is where the Air Force has a significant presence.

Two F-35s were recently deployed to Bulgaria for training and "reassuring allies and partners of U.S. dedication to the enduring peace and stability of the region." Another two F-35s recently deployed to Europe and will visit multiple NATO countries in support of European Reassurance Initiative.

Four hundred airmen from the 5th Bomb Wing recently deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Twelve F-16 fighters are in South Korea to "help maintain a deterrent against threats to regional security and stability." Multiple B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers are also stationed there.

Photo Credit: Skye Gould/Business Insider

Here's a view from across the military. In total, about 69,300 troops are assigned to Pacific Command, with 41,990 in Central Command, 34,520 in European Command, and 9,150 assigned to Africa Command.

Though we've shown you some of the most significant deployments around the world, it's worth noting that these graphics are not all-inclusive. We've kept off most traditional bases and training exercises, for example.

Photo Credit: Skye Gould/Business Insider

Here is a chart of the significant U.S. military deployments worldwide.

There are some other rather significant troops deployed to support in other service members in hotspots.

Thousands of U.S. service members, mostly airmen, are deployed in Qatar, where the U.S. Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base is located. 

In Jordan, 1,500 soldiers, a squadron of F-16s, a Patriot missile battery, and M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems have been deployed because of the war in Syria. 

About 7,000 US military personnel, mostly sailors, are based in Bahrain, which is home to the 5th Navy Fleet. A large number of US airmen also operate out of the Shaykh Isa Air Base, where F-16s, F/A-18s, and P-3 surveillance aircraft are stationed.

Elements of the U.S. 379th Air Expeditionary Wing are based in Eskan Village Air Base in Saudi Arabia, where the 5th Navy Fleet also patrols. 

Photo Credit: Skye Gould/Business Insider

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The fighter jet deal had been stalled amid concerns raised by Israel that equipment sent to Gulf states could fall into the wrong hands and be used against it, and by the Obama administration's broader decision-making on military aid to the Gulf.

Trump, who took office in January, has accused Qatar of being a "high-level" sponsor of terrorism, potentially hindering the State Department's efforts to help ease the diplomatic crisis.

In his remarks to journalists in Kuwait, Cavusoglu reiterated Turkish criticism of economic sanctions by the three Gulf Arab states and Egypt against Qatar as "wrong," although he denied that Turkey was supporting one side.

"It is out of the question for us to take sides here. We are making statements that are very balanced and aimed at a resolution," he said. "However, being at the same distance (from all parties) does not mean not telling the truth," he added.

Cavusoglu, who had visited Qatar before Kuwait, said he would convey Turkey's views during a visit to Saudi Arabia.

Turkey and Qatar have both provided support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt - a broad movement whose Islamist goals are anathema to Egypt's ex-military president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and to many of the Gulf's dynastic rulers.

Conservative Gulf neighbors have long viewed Qatar's foreign policy with suspicion, especially its refusal to shun Shi'ite Iran, and resented its state-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera for airing critical views from across the region. (Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal in Dubai and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, writing by Sylvia Westall and Sami Aboudi; editing by Peter Graff)

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