US temporarily moves Middle East command amid Iran tension

Control of air operations was shifted for 24 hours from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar to South Carolina

A US Air Force B-52 bomber arrives at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Reuters

The US Air Force temporarily moved its Middle East command and control from Qatar to South Carolina at the weekend in a move considered to be a signal to Iran.

The shift in the control of air operations from Al Udeid Air Base to Shaw in South Carolina, first reported first by The Washington Post, took place on Saturday and was "planned for a while," a US source told The National.

This is the first time the US command had been moved out of the region since it was established in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf war.

Al Udeid took back control on Sunday after 24 hours of the tactical move.

Air Force officials told The Post that recent incidents involving Iran helped to add urgency to the project.

Nicholas Heras, a senior fellow at the Centre for New American Security, regarded it as part of US efforts to maintain a tactical advantage over Iran.

“The air force is in the process of implementing processes to protect America's advantage in war,” Mr Heras said.

He said it would allow for a network of command centres in the region and the US to co-ordinate air operations throughout the world”.

“Iran has made it no secret that it will directly attack US bases in that region in the event of a war," Mr Heras said.

The move was designed to show Tehran that this tactic would not work.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim visited Washington in July, where he met US President Donald Trump.

“Qatar has to balance its relations with the United States and Iran, but if push came to shove, Doha benefits much more from its partnership with the US,” Mr Heras said.

Al Udeid Air Base is the largest for the US in the Middle East, with more than 11,000 US troops.

The base has operated publicly since 2002 and has a combined air operations centre that co-ordinates flights and attacks against ISIS in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.