Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with Qatari leaders today to thank them for their help in evacuating Afghans from Kabul, saying ''at a critical and historic moment Qatar went above and beyond, and your generosity helped to save thousands of lives.''
Upon arrival Monday night, Austin – along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken – met with Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Both men continued discussions with foreign affairs and defense officials on Tuesday.
While other issues were discussed during the visit, Austin and Blinken were profuse in their praise for the Qatari effort in aiding the Afghan refugees. Both men spoke alongside their counterparts during a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
''Qatar's support for Operation Allies Refuge was indispensable to the safe transit of Americans and U.S. personnel, allies, partners and Afghans at special risk,'' Austin said. ''I'm deeply proud that the U.S. military, together with our partners, completed the largest airlift in history, evacuating more than 124,000 people to safety. But we could not have accomplished that without Qatari support.''
Qatar housed more than 58,000 Afghans during the non-combatant evacuation operation from Kabul, Blinken said. ''Qatar was the first stop on a journey to a more peaceful and hopeful future for so many people,'' the secretary of state said.'' You welcomed them with compassion, and with generosity and when problems arose, Qatar worked hand-in-hand with us to address them. The men, women and children who transited through here will not forget what you did in a pivotal moment of their lives. Neither will we.''
Qatar's support for Operation Allies Refuge was indispensable to the safe transit of Americans and U.S. personnel, allies, partners and Afghans at special risk.''
Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary of Defense
Qatar is not a one-trick pony. ''In fact, we're here today because our work together as partners and friends continues not only [with] Operation Allies Refuge, but on many shared priorities,'' Austin said. ''The United States is grateful that Qatar continues to host American troops to make sure that our forces are well positioned to support a range of critical missions in the region.''
But the U.S-Qatar relationship extends well beyond security to economic development, humanitarian issues and moves to de-escalate tensions in the region, Austin said.
Qatar has provided humanitarian aid from Yemen to Gaza, and hosted and facilitated Afghan peace negotiations. ''But Iran's support for terrorism and its willingness to supply increasingly lethal weapons to non-state groups undermines the regional stability that we all seek,'' Austin said. ''So we're committed to working together to enhance regional defenses against destabilizing actions, including Iran's nuclear aspirations.''
U.S. Central Command supplies the power needed, but Austin said all prefer that diplomacy succeed in reducing tensions.
Qatari leaders said they expect the Kabul International Airport could reopen ''soon,'' and Qatar is sending some chartered aircraft to the region. They said they will continue to work with the Taliban to allow freedom of passage from the country.
The United States will continue to monitor Afghanistan for any resurgence of terror groups that could threaten America. Without troops on the ground or a relationship with the government in Kabul this will be more difficult, Austin said, but the United States military can accomplish this mission.
''There's no question that it will be more difficult to identify and engage threats that emanate from the region,'' Austin said. ''But we're committed to making sure that threats are not allowed to develop and create significant challenges for us in the homeland. We already have robust capabilities in the region where we look to improve them on a daily basis, and we're going to continue to do that. And I would just say … that we've come a long way in the last 20 years in terms of the development of our capabilities. And I would further say that there isn't a scrap of Earth that we can't reach out and touch when we need to. We've demonstrated that time and time again. And again, our job is to make sure we stay vigilant and continue to develop capabilities.''