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Qataris recognize risks that U.S. presence brings

By Wolf Blitzer
Wolf Blitzer Reports

Al Udeid
U.S. military planes and support facilities at al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar.

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DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- For this small Persian Gulf emirate, there are benefits and risks to hosting the U.S. military.

The major benefit: The people of Qatar have the protection of the world's only superpower. That's nothing to sneeze at given the dangers of this neighborhood, especially those posed by Iraq and Iran.

But there are also clear risks. First and foremost: terrorism. Osama bin Laden began to direct his brand of terrorism against his native Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War, inflamed by the presence of U.S. military forces on holy Saudi soil. With the arrival of the U.S. military's Central Command in Qatar, there's now fear al Qaeda will direct its attention here.

"There is no doubt that al Qaeda will try to do its best to harm U.S. interests in Qatar," says Professor Rob Sobhani of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "But Qatar security is very, very good. The Qataris have a very tight border. The only way to enter in the country really is by air -- other than the border with Saudi Arabia. So, all in all, Qatar is safe for American interests."

U.S. troops are stationed at two huge bases in Qatar: the As Saliyah complex where U.S. Central Command's Gen. Tommy Franks will lead a simulated war game in the coming days, and al Udeid Air Base which boasts the longest runway in the region. The approximately 4,000 Americans here are keeping a very low public profile -- sensitive to Qatar's fears. It's almost impossible to get anywhere near those bases without high-level authorization -- a direct legacy of the suicide truck bombing at a marine barracks outside Beirut on October 23, 1983, that killed 241 U.S. troops.

Locals certainly recognize the dangers but generally appear to support the presence of U.S. troops. "It is up to the government, and not up to people. We are not afraid of these people here," one merchant in Doha told us. Still, security throughout the country is understandably tight.



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