US Air Base in Qatar
A US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber pictured at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar - File photo US Air Force via Reuters

Al-Udeid Air Base, the US' largest military base in the Middle East, is set to become even bigger, with the latest expansion plans approved by both Washington and the host, Qatar. With this expansion, Qatar intends to maintain the air base – which remains pivotal to the US' military operations in the highly sensitive region – as a "permanent" facility.

The US maintains one of its biggest concentrations of military personnel in the Middle East in the Al-Udeid Air Base with around 11,000 troops. Despite Qatar's bitter diplomatic tussle with regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia – also a key ally of the US – in the past several months, Washington has shown no intention of scaling down any of its operations at the outpost.

As part of the expansion plans, 200 more housing units will also be set up, allowing more military officers and their families to live there. "It will very soon become a family-oriented place for our American friends there. We want more of the families to be stable and feel more comfortable in their stay," said Qatar's Defence Minister Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Attiyah while visiting Washington.

"We have a big plan to expand Al-Udeid to make it permanent," the defence minister added. "Colleagues in the US Department of Defense are reluctant to mention the word 'permanent', but we are working from our side to make it permanent."

The sprawling military base, located about 20 miles from the capital city of Doha, can accommodate up to 120 aircraft and is often used as the launchpad for most of the US operations in the region. The strategically important facility, which became operational in 2003, also has one of the longest runways in the Persian Gulf at 12,500ft.

"Qatar is strategically placed. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria – these are all hotspots in the region. I am not exaggerating when I say 80% of aerial refuelling in the region is from Udeid," said Attiyah. "We're the ones that keep your birds flying."

He added the presence of American troops on Qatari soil has also been beneficial for the Middle Eastern country's military personnel as they have learnt a lot by cooperating with their US counterparts.