America's biggest base in the Middle East is getting bigger

F-22 fighters, above, B-52 bombers and other military hardware have been deployed by the Pentagon to Qatar this year.

AL UDEID, Qatar — The Trump administration has moved to pull back troops from conflict zones like Syria and Afghanistan. But here at Al Udeid, home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East, there is no sense of retreat.

Vast sums of money are being spent to improve this sprawling air base, making it not only more central to the U.S. military posture but also more permanent.

U.S. officials are cautious about the language they use to describe the work at the site, dubbing it an upgrade, while Qatari officials call it an expansion. Though there have been no plans announced to send more troops to the base, it could accommodate considerably more than the 10,000 here on any given day.

President Donald Trump has said he wants to end American involvement in "endless wars" around the world, but the United States remains deeply involved in a variety of regional conflicts in the Middle East and faces rising tension with Iran.

Brig. Gen. Daniel Tulley, commander of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, said in an interview that U.S. military operations at Al Udeid are "every bit as complicated" as they were at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with high-end military hardware like F-22 fighters and B-52 bombers deployed to Qatar this year.

The United States now faces five major challenges in the region, Tulley said: the conflict in Afghanistan; tensions with Iran; the threat posed by the remains of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq; the precarious situation in northern Syria, where U.S.-backed Kurdish forces are in control; and the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is supported by the United States.

"It's a tremendously strategic location, right in the center of everything," he said of Al Udeid.

In a region sensitive about the presence of U.S. military forces, it is notable that Qatar is not only allowing the expansion but also funding it and managing the construction, at a price estimated as high as $1.8 billion.

Diplomats from rival Persian Gulf nations say Qatar's enthusiastic effort to expand Al Udeid, along with the country's purchases of U.S. military equipment estimated to be worth tens of billion of dollars, are attempts to use the country's vast wealth from natural gas to curry favor with the Trump administration at a time when Qatar is isolated by other U.S. allies in the region.

Several military officials said the scale of construction at Al Udeid and Qatar's supervisory role in the project are unusual. "It's a completely new thing" for the Defense Department, Tulley said.

Central Command moved its forward operating base here in 2003, following concerns about a backlash in Saudi Arabia over the large-scale U.S. presence at Prince Sultan Air Base.

Work on the base will enhance quality of life for American troops and "improve the lethality of our missions," according to Army Maj. Beth Riordan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command.

Qatar remains under blockade by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both important U.S. allies in the region who host American troops at their own bases.

When Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations broke with Qatar in June 2017, there was speculation that Al Udeid would suffer. But U.S. military officials say there has been only minor disruption to American activities in the region.

Qatar has used the blockade to strengthen its relationship with the U.S.

"Everything has changed for Qatar," said Maj. Gen. Nasser al-Attiyah, a spokesman for Qatar's Ministry of Defense. "Before the blockade is one thing, and after the blockade is another."

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