The Army officially closed Area Support Group-Qatar at a June 10, 2021 ceremony here attended by the 1st Theater Sustainment Command commanding general.
This ceremony marked the end of the group’s nearly three decades supporting military and humanitarian operations in the Middle East.
“It is important to note that since 1992, this organization provided services to both Soldiers in the entire joint force AOR, as well as to a number of units it has hosted on this installation,” said Maj. Gen. John P. Sullivan, whose 1st TSC handles all logistics in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. “In many, many ways, it has been multi-faceted.”
Military and civilian personnel deployed to ASG-Qatar supported vessel operations at the port at Doha and facilitated onloading and offloading equipment and supplies.
Personnel at the port supported portions of the annual Eagle Resolve military exercises.
These exercises included counter-terrorism events on land and sea, air and land forces training, and a simulated weapon of mass destruction attack, which involved not only the Qatari military but also the civilian authorities such as civil defense, police and civilian medical staff.
With the closure of ASG-Qatar, the Army also shuttered its three installations in the country, the one here was known as Camp As Sayliyah-Main; Camp As Sayliyah-South, which was a smaller, less-developed compound on the Qatar border with Saudi Arabia; and Falcon an ammunition supply point.
All three installations are slated for transfer to the Qatari government.
The Army established ASG-Qatar to act as both the garrison command for its facilities in Qatar and to support the embassy and military-to-military relations with the host nation. The support structures at ASG-Qatar included the group headquarters, administration buildings, a chapel, a community center, a dining facility, enlisted and officer quarters, as well as fitness centers, a medical clinic and fire station.
Army Prepositioned Stock
The most consequential of the facilities was the Army Prepositioned Stock forward-deployed here in August 2000, after a four-year construction of yards and climate-controlled warehouses to house vehicles and other equipment, weapons and communications gear for 11,000 Soldiers.
It was the largest APS site outside the United States, encompassing 27 warehouses with roughly 1.6 million square feet or 36.3 acres of enclosed storage space. The Army also paved more than six miles of roads and put up 2.5 miles of fencing.
The APS was part of a government-to-government agreement between the United States and Qatar and was paired with a similar arrangement and facility at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, designated APS-5.
At its peak, the APS-5 Qatar carried an inventory that included M-1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and other armored personnel carriers.
This APS was a lesson learned from the 1991 First Gulf War, which saw the unprecedented lift of equipment and materiel into the Middle East. With APS in Qatar and Kuwait, as well as other APS sites around the world, the Army would not have the same logistical challenges to execute heavy military operations.
Although the prepositioned stock cut the time for two brigades to move from four weeks to four days–or sooner, there was a geographical drawback being based in Qatar.
Because the country is a peninsula, a considerable distance to regional hot spots, it is impractical for troops to simply fall in on the trucks, tanks and other rolling stock and head out and have to convoy through Saudi Arabia.
Instead, the process for APS at Qatar was for an advance party to accept the prepositioned stock and then arrange for it to be airlifted and carried on merchant vessels to meet the deploying troops further away. This process was validated in 2000 when troops from the 1st Cavalry Division fell in on a company’s worth of Bradley’s from APS-5 Qatar for an exercise in Kuwait.
ASG-Qatar hosted Bush, Rumsfeld & Operation Iraqi Freedom planners
Another example of what Sullivan called an installation with multi-faceted missions occurred in January 2002, when senior military leaders and war planners deployed here to establish a proto-military headquarters for the liberation of the Iraqi people, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and develop an operational program for that liberation.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld flew to Qatar for a 24-hour visit in December 2002, which included a visit to the war planners and a 40-minute town hall meeting with service members.
When he met with the war planners, they demonstrated their $60 million computer war game simulator, which they called “Internal Look,” all part of the Command Deployable Headquarters set up in a war room in one of the warehouses here.
Six months after Rumsfeld’s visit, President George W. Bush spoke to 1,000 service members before going to Iraq.
200,000 military and civilian personnel pass through R2P2
It was also in 2002 that the Rest and Recuperation Pass Program opened here. The program, R2P2, allowed military personnel and Defense Department civilians to come to Camp As Sayliyah on a four-day pass to take a break from their deployment.
Sullivan said at the June 10 end of mission ceremony that the first time he was aware of Camp As Sayliyah, was during his 2005-2006 deployment as a battalion commander in Iraq and he had the opportunities to send his Soldiers to the pass program.
“They came back with stories of this oasis in Qatar,” the general said. “There was a pool and there was an opportunity to get out and see some of this great nation–and just being out of the combat environment for four days. They came back to us re-energized with a clear mind and in a better place.”
When personnel arrived at R2P2, they stayed in rooms crafted out of shipping containers stacked two-high inside a large warehouse. Once they were settled in, the personnel were told to change into civilian clothes that they brought or that they could pick from a selection of clothes left behind that was laundered and available on hangers.
In the compound itself, there was an English pub, an Irish bar and a French cafe, all serving guests up to two glasses of beer or wine. There were also movies, video games and sports playing on big screens.
If guests wanted to go off post, there were trips organized by the Morale, Welfare and Recreation office to the beach, local world-class golf courses and the traditional markets called souks.
One of the most popular trips was the trip to the local shopping mall that caters to the Qatari elite. The mall offered Venice-style gondola rides around the canal that ran through the mall, along with a hockey rink–often with teams competing–and a ski slope serviced by the mall’s snow-making machines.
When R2P2 closed in 2011, it had hosted some 200,000 military and civilian personnel and in 2008, its peak year, there were 30,000 on pass here, mostly from Iraq and 10 percent from Afghanistan.
Humanitarian support to the survivors of the Beirut port explosion
In addition to its support of military operations, units and personnel assigned to ASG-Qatar have responded to humanitarian disasters in the region.
The most recent example was Beirut’s Aug. 4, 2020 port explosion. The blast killed 207 people, injured 7,500 and left 300,000 people homeless. The blast, which the U.S. Geological Survey recorded as a 3.3 magnitude event, caused $15 billion damage.
Two days after the blast, ASG-Qatar personnel assembled 11 pallets of emergency supplies, which were airlifted to Beirut from nearby Al Udeid Air Base. The pallets contained 11,520 bottles of water, 28,000 Military Ready-to-Eat meals, or MRE’s, along with two pallets of medical supplies.
The Army closed ASG-Qatar after almost 30 years of operation as part of its ongoing realignment of assets and personnel in the Middle East. The U.S. military continues to have a strong presence in Qatar at the Al Udeid Air Base and Qatar continues to be a vital U.S. partner on a wide range of security issues.