♦ Pentagon deploys warships to carry out joint manoeuvres with Qatari navy
♦ Mattis, his Qatari counterpart discuss US-led military campaign against IS
The United States agreed a major warplane sale to Qatar and began manoeuvres with the emirate's navy yesterday, underscoring its commitment to their military alliance despite Doha's rift with other Gulf allies.
Washington has sent conflicting signals to its longtime ally about its position on the diplomatic crisis which has seen Saudi Arabia and its allies impose sweeping sanctions on the emirate.
Last week, US President Donald Trump expressed support for the Saudi-led allegations against Qatar, charging that it had "historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level".
But Pentagon and State Department officials have since scrambled to reassure the emirate, which houses the largest US airbase in the Middle East and the command headquarters for US military operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis welcomed his Qatari counterpart Khalid al-Attiyah to Washington on Wednesday for the signing of the agreement for the sale of F-15 fighters.
"The $12-billion sale will give Qatar a state-of-the-art capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar," the Pentagon said.
It did not provide additional details on the sale but Bloomberg reported it could involve as many as 36 warplanes.
Attiyah told the official Qatar News Agency the agreement would boost the emirate's defences and create 60,000 jobs in the United States.
"We believe that this agreement will propel Qatar's ability to provide for its own security, while also reducing the burden placed upon the United States military in conducting operations against violent extremism," he said.
The Pentagon meanwhile deployed two warships to carry out joint manoeuvres with the Qatari navy in the Gulf.
The vessels docked in Hamad Port, south of the capital Doha, on Wednesday, the Qatari defence ministry said.