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Qatar Armed Forces (QAF)

At the time of independence on September 3, 1971, the armed forces consisted of little more than the Royal Guard Regiment and some scattered units equipped with a few armored cars and four aircraft. By 1992 it had grown to a force of 7,500, including an army of 6,000, a navy of 700, and an air force of 800. In addition to the Royal Guard Regiment, the army had expanded to include a tank battalion, three mechanized infantry battalions, a special forces company, a field artillery regiment, and a SAM battery. The combined combat strength of these units in 1992, however, was estimated to be no more than that of a reinforced regiment in a Western army.

The creation of a professional military force remains a second-order priority for Qatar. The Qatar Armed Forces (QAF) is not a powerful force in Qatari society, which lacks a martial tradition. The QAF could put up little defense against Qatar's primary perceived threats - Saudi Arabia and Iran - and the U.S. military's presence is larger and far more capable than Qatar's force of approximately 8,000 men at arms. Nurturing this force therefore remained something of an afterthought for the Qatari Government.

The Internal Security Force (ISF), on the other hand, has emerged as Qatar's premier security force. While threats by terrorists or outside military forces remain relatively low, the Qatari Government recognizes that its economic and political survival depends on its critical energy infrastructure and is increasingly alarmed by vulnerabilities to that infrastructure. As Qatar focuses on its internal security, the ISF will continue to command a larger role in the three years. Qatar's State Security (QSS) simply does not see a credible terrorist threat here.

Despite ISF's increasing importance, the QAF remains the steward of the U.S.-Qatari military relationship for the foreseeable future. Developments in that relationship on the Qatari side continue to be personality-driven and flow from the top down. Qatar took a leading role in the international military intervention to topple Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, not only sending fighter planes to join the NATO air campaign, but also deploying its Special Forces units on the ground to guide the rebel assault on Tripoli.

The country has a public security force of about 8,000 men, including a coast guard, national firefighting force, air wing, marine police, and an internal security force. Qatar also has signed defense pacts with the U.S., U.K., and France. Qatar plays an active role in the collective defense efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC--the regional organization of the Arab states in the Gulf; the other five members are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the U.A.E., and Oman). Qatari forces played an important role in the first Gulf War, and Qatar has supported U.S. military operations critical to the success of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Qatar hosts CENTCOM Forward Headquarters.

Qatar lacks an overarching national military strategy. It has not clarified what it envisions for its military over the next 5, 10, or 20 years. Qatar continues to modernize its (tiny) military through the purchase of U.S. weapons systems, though competition will continue from the French, British, and others. Qatari leadership seeks to enhance the prestige of its military within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the international arena, but has no clearly defined strategy for doing so. Likewise, Qatar is attracted to the latest military systems, even while its military modernization is not guided by a national security strategy.

Qatar continues to face a formidable challenge staffing its military with Qataris because there are so few of them, and because more attractive opportunities exist elsewhere in the government and the private sector. The continued dependence on foreign nationals, particularly in the enlisted ranks, continues to present concerns about transfers of sensitive U.S. technology.

Throughout its short history Qatar has relied on the presence of an outside power (Britain, then the U.S.) to guarantee its security. In addition, demographic realities (the shortage of military-age male citizens to serve in the military) and the lack of any martial tradition in the culture contribute to a national reluctance to be self-reliant in terms of defense.

Qatar's leadership recognized the need to modernize and professionalize its military forces. A project to create a branch of the cole spciale militaire de Saint-Cyr (Special Military School of Saint-Cyr) in Qatar was initiated by a request made by the Emir directly to the head of state in May 2006. By choosing Saint-Cyr, Qatar is attempting to adopt a comprehensive French-style educational system intended to provide officers to Qatars armed forces as well as upper-level managers to civil society (administrations, companies, etc.).

Qatar recognized that its foremost strategic center of gravity is the economic wealth derived from hydrocarbon resources. Any threat to the facilities or transport systems that supply that wealth could deeply undermine the government and the country's independence. With that in mind, Qatar wished to continue to make incremental improvements in all components of its military, with the caveat that such investments will remain subordinate to the primary national goal of economic and human development.

The shift in Qatar's preference for defense equipment from European to American products is in part due to the recognition that interoperability with U.S. forces will serve as a force-multiplier for their own troops. Nevertheless, Qatar's desire to be the "friend of everyone and the enemy of no one" means that politics will remain a crucial factor in any defense purchase decision.

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