The Air Force will station 30 U.S.-based fighter jets in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar for two months, starting in late June, to show U.S. “determination to deter aggression” in the region, officials said Tuesday.
The Air Force will send F-16 Fighting Falcon jets and F-15 Strike Eagle planes, plus four KC-135 refueling planes, to Qatar as an expeditionary force similar to one now in Jordan, said Bruce Riedel, a deputy assistant secretary of defense.
“We think this is a very effective means of demonstrating our determination to deter aggression against Qatar and our other allies in the region,” Riedel said. He said it was “not cued to any specific threat.”
Qatar, a small finger of land jutting into the Gulf from Saudi Arabia, is a traditional U.S. ally.
The planes, along with a force of about 1,300 people, will stay in Qatar until late August, Riedel said. They will fly in support of Operation Southern Watch, a U.S.-led air mission to protect Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq from government forces. An attempted rebellion by the Shiites immediately after the 1991 Persian Gulf War was crushed by government troops.
The Qatar mission will mark the third time the Air Force has deployed to the Middle East what it calls an Airpower Expeditionary Force. The first, last fall, was stationed temporarily in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. The second, in Jordan, began flying in April and is due to return to U.S. bases in late June.
In the first two instances the U.S. planes in Bahrain and Jordan served as a kind of stand-in during a gap in deployments of U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf. This time, in Qatar, they will be in addition to a carrier in the Gulf, Riedel said.
The F-15s going to Qatar are from the 4th Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., and the 33rd Wing from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The F-16s are from the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. The KC-135 tankers are from the 319th Aerial Refueling Wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D.