Hagel Concludes Six-day Troop, Partner Nation Visits
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
DOHA, Qatar, Dec. 10, 2013 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrapped up a dual-purpose six-day trip to the Middle East and Southwest Asia here today.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addresses troops on Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Dec. 10, 2013. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
As the secretary told troops at his last stop here, “The first priority and the real reason I was out here and spent time was to thank our troops, thank our men and women who do so much for all of us.”
Hagel also spent time engaging with allies and partners to assure them of the United States’ commitment to the region. He delivered a speech on the U.S. regional force posture in Manama, Bahrain. Hagel also spent two days in Afghanistan talking with Afghan military leaders and U.S. troops and ground commanders. And, he attended high-level meetings in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and here.
The secretary’s day in Qatar started at a palace and concluded at a semi-secret military facility. In the interim, Hagel and Qatari Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Hamad bin Ali Al Attiyah formally renewed the U.S.-Qatar Defense Cooperation Agreement. The agreement governs training, exercises and other cooperative interactions between U.S. and Qatari forces.
“This agreement promotes cooperation and is a testament to the longstanding security partnership enjoyed by the United States and Qatar,” Assistant Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog said in a written statement.
Woog added that the accord “underscores the close partnership between the United States and its [Gulf Cooperation Council] partners, which Secretary Hagel highlighted in his remarks at the Manama Dialogue this past weekend.”
The secretary’s first stop today was the Sea Palace, where he met with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, Qatar’s emir. He then moved on to the signing ceremony at Qatar’s government headquarters, and then paid a visit to U.S. and coalition forces at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, located at Al Udeid Airbase, a Qatari base that hosts the U.S. command-and-control facility.
Addressing service members there -- his fourth troop talk this week -- Hagel thanked them and their families, offering his and President Barack Obama’s best wishes for the holiday season.
“I know occasionally you’re stuck in remote places and you wonder if anybody even knows where you are or who you are or what you’re doing,” the secretary said. “Let me assure you, we do.”
The center where they work coordinates military air operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility by integrating nearly 30 nations’ capabilities into a complete, real-time overview of mission execution. Hagel told troops that multinational approach is “where the world’s going.”
A senior defense official traveling with the secretary told reporters on background that the center might be unique in the degree of talent it brings together.
“[There’s] probably no other facility where you can go and see so many partners operating together at once,” the official said. “So that’s a story that is important, to reassure our allies and our partners.”
The official added that the center, which military leaders have in the past been reluctant to publicize because of regional sensitivities, makes it “visible to the world that we’re working together on common defense.”
Hagel told the airmen, sailors, soldiers and Marines at Al Udeid that the experience and training Gulf nation representatives receive there, along with integrated allied participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, furthers U.S. aims to build partner capacity.
“Our partners are going to be as important, and probably more so, than they’ve ever been, for our own national security [and] for their national security,” the secretary said, emphasizing a message he has delivered throughout his time in office.
“The more we can understand each other [and] work with each other, the better the world is going to be,” Hagel told the troops. “I’m particularly impressed with that part of what you’re doing here.”
The secretary began his trip telling delegates to the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain that the United States will maintain its troop posture in the region and that it seeks to strengthen coalitions there. He repeated that message today.
“We’re not going to get disconnected from our allies in this region,” he told reporters traveling with him before boarding the plane for Washington. “Our common interests are very clear here.”