Qatar – Special Operational Forces

New Delhi Times, 19 June 2017

Summary

The Qatari Special Operations Command (Q-SOC) comprises a battalion in strength and is based in Doha.

The Q-SOC is responsible for operations on land and at sea, with particular emphasis paid to CT duties in the maritime environment to protect offshore oil platforms. The command continually runs maritime CT and anti-piracy exercises in collaboration with the navy and has been trained in amphibious warfare by French special forces. The Q-SOC operators are also trained in DA, personnel recovery, CSAR, and intelligence-gathering missions. The command also has a good relationship with NATO SOFs, including the US Marines Special Operations Command (M-SOC), which has provided demolition and CT training.

Despite its small size, Q-SOC has remained very active over recent years, with the command deploying dozens of operators to Libya in 2011 to assist rebels in deposing Ghadaffi. According to senior officers, Q-SOC provided training and communications support to the rebels.

Furthermore, Qatari special forces will soon have increased levels of co-operation with Turkish counterparts following a defence agreement announced on 16 February 2016. According to the deal, which was revealed by the Turkish defence minister, Turkey will occupy a multipurpose military base in Qatar within two years thus allowing the Turkish armed forces to conduct exercises and operations in the Red Sea, northern Africa, and the Persian Gulf more easily. “We want to achieve co-operation in the field of military training and exercises, and contribute to stability in the region,” said the defence minister. He also added that, in return, Qatari military personnel will be stationed in Turkey.

Defence sources informed Jane’s  that both countries’ SOF would benefit from cross-training with each other, with an uplift in resident courses covering the wide spectrum of special mission training.

Meanwhile, Qatari special forces continue to conduct operations in Yemen with reports of an operator killed in action on 11 November 2015, according to the country’s foreign minister. The fatality is understood to have been a result of a direct action mission on a rebel stronghold, defence sources explained to Jane’s . In October 2015 Qatar deployed a 1,000-strong task force, including SOF elements, supported by 200 armoured vehicles and attack helicopters, to combat Houthi rebels in the country as part of Operation ‘Desert Storm’.

Deployments, tasks and operations

Force elements from the Qatar Special Operations Command participated in Exercise ‘Eagle Resolve’ between 19 March and 19 April 2017, according to sources from the US Special Operations Command. The exercise, which took place in Kuwait, saw units working to develop interoperability with other participating units from Kuwait’s 25th Commando Group; Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Emergency Force and Special Forces Companies and the UAE Special Operations Command.

Training comprised a mix of ground-based and maritime-based exercises including direct action scenarios including close quarter battle tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as site sensitive exploitation and EOD serials, which took place at Abdali Farms.

Maritime exercises occurred off the coast of Kuwait and included maritime CT serials including HR operations as well as visit, board, search, and seizure missions. A USCentral Command statement described how special forces teams from the GCC members and counterparts from US Naval Special Warfare simulated “an air and seaborne rapid insertion, search and seizure of the occupied tanker and its hijackers, and the safe release of the tanker crewmen. The raid was a cumulative joint exercise that tested the participants’ tactical skills and abilities to operate cohesively in an operational mission with our GCC partner nations,” a statement continued.

Qatar   Security

Major Threats

Conflict snapshot

The risk of a Saudi-Iran war in the Gulf, which would inevitably involve Qatar, is low. Although border disputes between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have long strained their relations, both are part of the Gulf Co-operation Council mutual defence alliance and the risk of disputes leading to military confrontation is negligible.

Interstate conflict

Qatari-Iranian efforts to improve bilateral relations lower the risk of security incidents despite escalating Saudi-Iranian rivalry

Saudi Arabian King Salman’s focus on containing Iranian influence in the region has increased the Saudi leadership’s willingness to engage with overseas Sunni Islamist groups and re-establish common ground with the Qatari leadership. Nevertheless, Qatar has a commercial and security imperative to balance its support for Saudi Arabia and Sunni Islamist causes with its relationship with Iran. Qatar will almost certainly seek to avoid political disputes that could escalate and potentially undermine production and export through the joint South Pars-North Dome natural gas field it shares with Iran. This field contributes to almost all of Qatar’s LNG exports, but only a portion of Iran’s gas reserves. Saudi Arabian and Emirati unwillingness to condone this policy was made apparent on 5 May 2017 when they, along with Bahrain and Egypt, imposed economic and territorial sanctions on Qatar. The intention of these sanctions is to end Qatar’s support of political Islamist groups across the region and check any growing relationship between Qatar and Iran. This blockade is unlikely to escalate to conflict between Qatar and its GCC allies, but rather is likely to see a gradual increase in economic measures intended to bring the Qatari government into line.

Qatar has a significant relatively well-integrated Shia minority and a large contingent of domiciled Sunni Islamists and Salafists, further reducing its appetite for growing Sunni-Shia hostility within the Gulf. Disputes over the joint field would indicate a rising risk of provocative action by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) near Qatari territorial water, including the risk of temporary politically motivated seizure of hydrocarbon tankers near Qatari waters.

Qatar welcomed the nuclear agreement with Iran on 4 August 2015, with the emir also highlighting the need for co-operation with Iran in his address to the UN General Assembly on 28 September. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Iran and Qatar also signed an agreement on 18 October to improve security co-operation near maritime boundaries.

Qatar’s navy is unable to provide sufficient protection for the country’s offshore gas holdings. The US Central Command (CENTCOM) located at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar (30 km west of Doha) serves as a major deterrent, and Qatar intends to develop its military and intelligence co-operation with Turkey, although this is more likely intended to improve co-operation in external theatres like Syria and Iraq, rather than a serious effort to diversify Qatar’s military and security alliances away from the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council. In March 2016, Turkish defence minister Fikri Isik announced that a Turkish military base being established in Qatar would be ready in two years.

Terrorism snapshot

There is a moderate risk of shootings and small IED attacks against Westerners and soft targets by jihadists. There is only a small proportion of Qatari jihadists fighting abroad compared with other nationalities, despite domestic support for Salafism. Potential targets in Qatar include Western residential and office buildings, hotels, international schools, and entertainment frequented by expatriates in the West Bay area. Western embassy staff and workers in the oil and gas industry are at moderate risk of one-off attacks while off-site.

Terrorism hotspots and targets

Qatar’s permissive environment and patronage for selected Islamists reduces the effectiveness of jihadist recruitment and risk of attacks

Qatar’s track record of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and the reputation it has established as a reliable partner among its supporters in the Islamist opposition across the Gulf, reduces the appeal of Salafist-jihadist ideology among Qataris and reduces the risk of jihadist attacks inside Qatar. Qatar’s backing of overseas Sunni Islamist groups, particularly the Brotherhood in Egypt, prompted Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE to temporarily withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar (in March-November 2014) and impose a political and economic blockade in June 2017. The immediate effect of these measures was to encourage Qatar to expel Hamas leadership figures, and it is likely that they will continue to withdraw support from other Islamists currently residing in Doha to end the confrontation with Saudi Arabia. In addition to a willingness to compromise its relationship with its GCC allies in favour of abandoning support for the Brotherhood, Qatar’s provision of a permissive operating environment for Islamists in general is another factor increasing its appeal among their supporters. . US Treasury officials in March 2014 singled out Kuwait and Qatar among the GCC countries as “permissive jurisdictions”, where private fund-raising networks can be relied on to solicit donations to radical recipients in Syria. The US Treasury listed two Qatari nationals on its terrorism financiers sanctions list in August 2015; they have not been arrested to date but Qatar did freeze their assets and impose travel bans. Qataralso maintains its own watchlists and engages in information-sharing between foreign government and its state-owned airlines.

By providing a platform and occasional base for Islamists in the Gulf and elsewhere, Qatar presents a much more complex recruitment challenge for jihadist groups than Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait, and a risky target that could potentially jeopardise a jihadist group’s international support base. The only successful jihadist attack on expatriates occurred on 19 March 2005, when an Egyptian suicide bomber targeted the Doha Players theatre, killing a UK national.

Potential jihadist targets in Qatar include Western residential buildings, office blocks, hotels, international schools, shopping malls, and restaurants frequented by expatriates. Embassies are at significantly lower risk. With the exception of the US embassy, Western embassies are concentrated in a diplomatic quarter in the West Bay area of Doha. The quarter’s layout is designed to increase perimeter security around embassies. Nevertheless, Western embassy staff and those working in the oil and gas industry are at moderate risk of one-off attacks while off-site, particularly when in transit to and from their place of work. Attacks on hydrocarbons infrastructure, such as Ras Laffan, ports, and airports, are probably aspirational. The military provides high levels of security for its key strategic assets.

Social stability and unrest snapshot

Qatar’s generous welfare system and extensive patronage for Qatari nationals, and its small population, reduce the risk of politically or economically motivated unrest. There have been no widespread calls for democratic reforms. There are no organised Qatari opposition groups and the large population of migrant workers is unlikely to protest given the high likelihood of consequent deportation. A prolonged economic and trade blockade by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, imposed in June 2017, raises the risk of political unrest and calls for a change in leadership as basic foodstuffs become scarce and inflation increases.

Protests and riots

Qatari nationals benefit from a generous welfare system and extensive patronage, reducing the risk of politically or economically motivated protests

Qatar’s sizeable gas reserves allow it to sustain an extensive welfare state with high public-sector employment, wages, and tax exemptions for citizens, as well as a generous welfare system that includes free education and housing. An estimated 84% of the Qatari workforce is employed in the public sector. Public-sector employees and locals holding middle and top-level management positions in the private sector usually receive high wages and benefits. Consequently, the risk of mass economically motivated protest is low. Despite reduced commodity prices, Qatar’s small population and size will likely ensure it is able to maintain this social bargain and maintain low risk of protests in 2017.

There are no organised Qatari opposition groups and the government is unlikely to face challenges associated with politically motivated unrest in Qatar over the coming year. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, together with Bahrain, Egypt, and several other Sunni Muslim states, initiated an economic and political blockade of Qatar with varying degrees of punitive measures. The initial goal of the embargo was to pressure the Qatari government into ending its support of Islamist groups and opposition movements across the region. In the event Qatar withdraws its support for Islamist groups, expels their representatives, and positions its foreign policy in line Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, the risk of Islamist-motivated protests, and more critically, jihadist motivated attacks, would grow. There have been some isolated politically motivated protests by Qatari nationals that have not involved criticism of the Qatari government. No demonstrations occurred following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Prior to the 2013 handover of power to Emir Tamim, social media monitoring showed that sections of the population were demanding stricter adherence to conservative Sunni Wahhabi Islamic ideals, with a few small factions demanding the removal of the “westernised” Emir. Qatar Airways has also been criticised for a lack of Qatari pilots and for serving alcohol on flights. Some Qataris claim that the sale of alcohol on the country’s national carrier and in five-star hotels contravenes their constitution, which calls for the observation of Islamic law.

Risks to individuals snapshot

The threat to individuals is from isolated, one-off shooting attacks by jihadist sympathisers and, to a lesser extent, crude IED attacks. Crime is largely restricted to petty street crime and burglaries, and occasional isolated incidents of assault and murder, rather than more organised violent crime. The likely expulsion of Islamist groups from Qatar in compliance with Saudi demands would initially increase risks before reducing them.

Crime Overview

The high standard of living among Qatari nationals means that petty crime, such as pickpocketing, is not a major problem in Qatar, although it is increasing. The burglary rate is 25 per 100,000 population, as opposed to a global average of 100 per 100,000. While there are isolated incidents of criminal activity, these are rare and crime is not a significant concern for those living or working in the country. Organised crime is similarly a negligible threat that is unlikely to affect commercial activity or company operations.

Human Trafficking

As in other Gulf states, human trafficking is a problem in Qatar, despite threatened US sanctions and growing pressure by international human rights organisations. Qatar has reacted by pledging to issue stricter laws and set up a committee to investigate and curb such offences. Despite this, human trafficking has remained widespread and most of the victims are children imported from Sudan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and other Asian countries to work as camel jockeys. Workers and housemaids, mostly from South Asia, are also believed to be subject to human rights violations, with some of those coming to the country voluntarily and subsequently being put into forced labour or trafficked. Female domestic workers who have left their employers are also at great risk of being forced into prostitution. In 2005, Qatar introduced a robot camel jockey as part of plans to phase out the use of children but this has not appeased the US and human rights bodies. The government has made the use of child jockeys illegal but there have been no prosecutions under this law. In 2013, the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons  report noted that the government has made some efforts at enforcing an October 2011 law prohibiting human trafficking and that sentences handed to those violating it were sufficiently stringent. Some efforts have been made to protect the increasing number of migrant workers, although enforcement here is lax. As is common elsewhere in the Gulf, Qatar has made it illegal to withhold the passports of foreign workers. In October 2016 Qatar’s cabinet also approved a proposal to set up a committee on human trafficking.

Drugs

Qatar, which has the highest per capita income in the Middle East, has reported a surge in narcotic smuggling despite the introduction of harsher penalties and a rise in the number of death sentences handed down to drug traffickers. Smugglers from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and other Asian countries have found Qatar and other Gulf oil producing countries a tempting destination for their operations given the region’s wealth and its location as a transit market between Asian drug-producers and Western markets. Besides the introduction of stronger punitive measures, Qatar is also co-ordinating anti-drug action with its GCC partners and is in regular contact with South Asian countries to seek their help in curbing such activities.

Financial Crime

Qatar has joined other Gulf states in passing money-laundering laws, closing bank accounts for foreign charities. Also, Qatar National Bank has provided its entire staff with a four-day course on fighting money laundering and terrorist financing and other banks are giving similar training to their employees. Qatar’s Central Bank passed the money-laundering law in 2004, specifying long jail terms for offenders and introducing stronger control of financial transactions as well as monitoring of charity funds. It also required financial institutions to comply with International Monetary Fund (IMF), Basel Committee, and World Bank systems and procedures for transaction monitoring and reporting. In 2010, Qatar introduced the Anti-Money Laundering Law (No. 4) under which firms are required to report suspicious transactions to the Qatar Financial Information Unit.

Brands

As in other Gulf states, Qatar is suffering from dumping of fake items and brands in the absence of effective copyright enforcement and intellectual property legislation. Fake brands of famous watches, compact discs, clothes, and other items are still found on shop shelves, but the problem has become less serious following intensified random raids by law enforcers in Qatar. The Arab Consumer and Brand Protection Forum, a new organisation that intends to tackle counterfeiting, is to hold its first meeting in May 2008. This organisation, based in Saudi Arabia, will work with all Arab and GCC states to fight counterfeiting in the region.

Intellectual property crime

Qatar had been on the US watch list for major violations of copyrights, trademarks, and other intellectual property fields before it was partly removed after it joined the World Trade Organization and other relevant bodies. Bowing to pressure from the US and other countries and organisations, Qatar approved plans to join the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in April 2005 and it became a full member on 28 October 2005. Qatar joined WIPO after the introduction of a series of laws to protect copyrights, trademarks, and intellectual property, although violations have persisted over the past few years in the absence of full enforcement of relevant penalties and the fact that Qatarrelies heavily on imports, some of which come from Asian countries known for their production of fake products.

Qatar issued Law No. 30 of 2006 introducing a patent law for the first time in the country, and in August 2011, the Patent Convention Treaty came into effect. in 2014, the Patent Office moved from the Ministry of Justice, to the Ministry of Economy and Commerce. Patents will have a 20-year period of protection from the date of the grant.

Weapons Proliferation and Procurement

State legal

The announcement of potential defence procurement projects worth USD23 billion in 2014 represented an unprecedented increase in investment in the military. Qatar has historically sourced the majority of its weapons from the West, primarily France. Paris has supplied Doha with AMX-30 main battle tanks (MBT), AMX-10 armoured cars, and Mirage 2000-5 fighter aircraft. However, recently Qatar has begun to diversify its suppliers, with the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany entering the market. On 5 June, Boeing and the government of Qatar signed an agreement for the purchase of four more C-17 Globemaster III airlifters, which will join the Qatar Armed Forces’ (QAF’s) existing fleet of four and help meet their ongoing airlift requirements. This followed US defence secretary Chuck Hagel’s July 2014 visit to Doha, when an announcement on the sale of more than USD11 billion in weapons and air defence systems was made. This included Patriot Missile batteries, Apache attack helicopters, and Javelin anti-tank missiles.

In 2013, Qatar agreed to purchase 62 Leopard 2 tanks and 24 PzH 2000 self-propelled artillery systems from German firm Kraus-Maffei Wegmann as part of Qatar’s programme to modernise its armed forces and replace its ageing, French-made armoured units. In August 2013, French newspaper La Tribune  reported that Qatar is looking to significantly expand its air force from 12 to 72 fighters. In May 2015, Qatar ordered 24 Rafale fighters from Dassault, raising the prospects that it may seek to purchase alternatives such as the Eurofighter Typhoon to meet its initial expansion aims. In December 2014, Raytheon received a USD2.379-billion contract to provide Qatar with 10 Patriot fire units and spares.

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