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CentCom Still Planning Joint Exercises in Mideast Despite Qatar Dispute

U.S. Central Command plans to continue training with Middle Eastern partners despite recently backing out of an exercise.

The command this month passed up participating in Exercise Iron Falcon at the Air Force's Central Command Air Warfare Center because of the ongoing diplomatic crisis targeting Qatar, said Maj. Earl Brown, CentCom spokesman.

The three-week-long multilateral training event was the first such exercise to get the boot from the command's calendar due to political uncertainties in the region.

"Leadership here decided to make it consistent," Brown told Military.com on Wednesday. "If one country is not invited to participate, we're going to pull out, out of respect to those countries."

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Brown added, "We're encouraging to make talks happen ... despite political differences."

In June, nine countries -- most notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya -- cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar over the country's alleged ties to terrorism.

Outside of Doha, Qatar's capital, the Pentagon has roughly 10,000 military personnel at Al Udeid Air Base, many of whom support Air Forces Central Command in Operation Inherent Resolve, the Defense Department's effort to stamp out the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Brown emphasized that one of the most important elements to making theater security work is participation from all the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

"It's all part of the bigger picture," he said. "Each Gulf partner has their own unique nuances, and how we support those partners, that's how we move on and make it happen. That's what we're trying to get after -- shared security within the Gulf region."

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Exercise Eagle Resolve, a multilevel exercise involving 3,000 forces from Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, was likely in limbo given the Qatar rift.

Eagle Resolve focuses on air defense concepts; border security operations; counterterrorism operations and procedures, according to CentCom's website.

So far, Brown said, it's still on the schedule for March.

"Multilateral exercises are still being planned," he said. "Each training opportunity has its own unique perspective, and we're still going to send our planners and staffs out to coordinate."

Seven larger, multinational exercises are planned for fiscal 2018; up to 10 are planned for fiscal 2019, Brown said.

And smaller leadership-course style events are still on the agenda as well.

For example, the biannual Advanced Tactical Leadership Course, coordinated by the Air Warfare Center at Al Dhafra Air Base, UAE, focuses on air operations -- including missile defense -- with Middle Eastern partners.

The region's seven-week version of the service's "Red Flag" hopes to host more fifth-gen fighter jets each time the exercise is held.

The idea is to "dial up the threat level to make it harder and harder as each day goes by," Air Force Col. Steven Boatright, commander of the Air Warfare Center, told Military.com in December.

"The key takeaway is, [the partners] are doing the fighting ... and they've gotten to this point. They're very capable air forces, and these exercises just make them better," Boatright said.

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