The Pentagon is relocating military assets from the United Arab Emirates to Qatar due to restrictions on conducting airstrikes from the UAE. Tensions have risen between the U.S. and some Gulf countries, leading to the shift of aircraft to Al Udeid air base in Qatar. The move comes as the U.A.E. imposed restrictions on strike missions in Iraq and Yemen, citing concerns of being targeted by Iranian proxies. The U.S. is also considering launching strikes from Djibouti in East Africa amid escalating regional tensions and security challenges.

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon is shifting jet fighters, armed drones, and other aircraft to Qatar, repositioning its forces to get around restrictions on conducting airstrikes from an air base long used by the U.S. in the United Arab Emirates.

The U.A.E. informed the U.S. in February that it would no longer permit American warplanes and drones based at Al Dhafra air base in Abu Dhabi to carry out strikes in Yemen and Iraq without notifying Emirati officials ahead of time. That has prompted U.S. commanders to send the additional aircraft to Al Udeid air base in Qatar, the small Persian Gulf monarchy that hasn’t imposed similar restrictions, U.S. officials said.


The move highlights the growing tensions between Washington and some Persian Gulf countries that have allowed American forces to be based on their territory but are wary of being drawn into a regional conflict as the war in Gaza begins its eighth month in a few days.

The U.S. has access to numerous bases across the Middle East that it has used in recent months to conduct airstrikes in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. It has also intercepted drones and missiles over the Red Sea and in the airspace over Jordan and other countries.

But as regional tensions have risen, the U.A.E. has grown increasingly nervous that it could be targeted by Iranian proxies in the region if it is seen to be publicly aiding U.S. military operations, officials said.

U.S. Shuffles Military Assets in Middle East After Gulf Pushback
A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker during air refueling operations above the Strait of Hormuz, July 21, 2023

“Restrictions have been imposed on strike missions against targets in Iraq and Yemen,” a U.A.E. official told The Wall Street Journal, explaining the decision to limit U.S. warplanes based in its territory from conducting airstrikes. “Those restrictions are coming from a place of self-protection.”

U.A.E. restricted attacks against Iraq and Yemen from aircraft based at Al Dhafra without prior notification because the U.S. was slow to take action to defend the U.A.E. after it came under attack from militias in those countries in early 2022, according to the Emirati official. The U.S. hasn’t asked the UAE to conduct strikes in Iraq or Yemen since the new requirement was imposed in February, U.S. military officials said.

The U.S. arranged with the Qataris in recent days to bring in additional jet fighters, reconnaissance planes, and armed drones to Al Udeid, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

U.S. drones have been especially important in the U.S. attacks in Yemen, striking missile launchers and other Houthi targets. Last month, the Houthis said they shot down a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone with a surface-to-air missile, releasing footage of the wreckage. The Pentagon confirmed one of its drones crashed in Yemen, the third MQ-9 lost during the conflict with the Houthis in the past six months.

U.S. airstrikes in Yemen haven’t halted Houthi targeting of ships in the Red Sea, and even a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war might not end the attacks, Avril Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

U.S. Shuffles Military Assets in Middle East After Gulf Pushback
Secretary Blinken speaks to the press at the port of Ashdod, Israel, May 1, 2024. Evelyn Hockstein/pool via AP

“They continue to indigenously produce a fair amount of [drones], other weapons systems, and so on and of course, they’re also getting assistance from the Iranians in this respect,” Haines said.

Iran last month launched more than 120 ballistic missiles, more than 30 cruise missiles, and approximately 170 drones at Israel, following an Israeli airstrike in Syria that killed senior Iranian commanders. The Saudis and Emiratis shared intelligence that aided Israel’s defense but have declined to publicly describe their role further.

In Yemen, the Houthis have carried out nearly 100 attacks on commercial vessels and naval forces operating in the region, including the U.S., according to a May 1 Congressional Research Service report. In response, the U.S. has targeted the Houthis with airstrikes in an effort to curtail the strikes and pressed for a Gaza cease-fire as part of a deal to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas.

The Houthis have said their attacks would end when the war in Gaza ends.

Late last month, for the first time, the Houthis attacked a containership sailing in the Indian Ocean with a drone, according to United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which monitors Red Sea attacks.

U.S. Shuffles Military Assets in Middle East After Gulf Pushback
A satellite image taken on March 2 shows the Rubymar cargo ship, nearly two weeks after it was damaged in a Huthi-claimed strike

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the aircraft carrier that has carried out some of the manned aircraft strikes in recent months, is likely to depart the region by this summer and may not be replaced, U.S. officials said. The carrier is currently in the Mediterranean Sea after completing a port visit in Greece.

The carrier’s looming departure increased the urgency for the Pentagon to shift planes to Al Udeid, so the U.S. can continue flying missions over Yemen, the U.S. officials said.

Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said the U.S.’s basing partnerships “remain critical to our efforts to work with allies and partners to support security and stability in the region,” but declined to comment on specific basing agreements.

Al Udeid air base is home to one of the largest hubs for U.S. military aircraft, as well as the U.S. Air Force’s regional command center. It was critical to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, allowing a steady stream of cargo planes to evacuate Americans and Afghans and initially housed refugees leaving.

U.S. Shuffles Military Assets in Middle East After Gulf Pushback
The Al Udeid Air Base in 2020 PHOTO: U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD

Qatar, a Persian Gulf monarchy the size of Connecticut, has also long hosted Hamas’s political leadership. It has served as a key intermediary in the effort to negotiate a cease-fire in the war in Gaza and secure the release of hostages held by Hamas.

The U.A.E. has been a close partner for the American military over decades. It provided access to more than a half dozen airfields and contributed forces when a U.S.-led  coalition evicted Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991. The U.A.E. has also participated in operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Somalia, Libya, and the campaign against Islamic State militants.

“We are the only Arab country to serve in six coalitions,” the U.A.E. official said.

In addition to shifting operations to Qatar, the U.S. is considering launching strikes from Djibouti, in East Africa, U.S. officials said.