Deep-rooted security partnership between Oman, US
By Ahmed Said in Muscat
The solid and deep-rooted relationship between Oman and the US benefits both partners and contributes substantially to regional and international security and stability, experts and analysts told Al-Mashareq.
The high level of co-operation between the two allies is evidenced by a recently concluded joint military training exercise hosted by the sultanate, they said.
The Royal Army of Oman’s three-week "Inferno Creek 19" exercise, conducted with the US military, was held in January near the coastal town of Rabkoot in Southern Oman.
Joint drills like this one are part of the military co-operation between the two countries, and allow both sides to improve combat skills and readiness to confront any dangers they may encounter in the region.
They also contribute to the understanding of the operational concepts between the two participants, thus enhancing joint work between them.
History of friendship
Relations between Oman and the US were officially established in 1833, and since that date the two countries have stood together on many issues, including defence and security, said historian and strategic analyst Qais bin Mahmoud.
The two countries signed a military co-operation agreement in 1980, which was updated and renewed in 2010, he told Al-Mashareq.
Oman has assisted in the fight against terrorism, he said, and serves as a member of the international coalition battling the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.
The sultanate also has acquired significant amount of military equipment from the US in recent years as it works to update its armed forces.
Recent acquisitions include two squadrons of advanced F-16 fighter aircraft, three C-130J cargo aircraft, F-16 weapon systems and 20 high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicles, the US State Department said last March.
According to the US State Department, this equipment "will provide Oman with the ability to defend itself against regional threats and provide opportunities to increase interoperability with US forces and other allies".
It also will "serve as a deterrent to potential threats from regional unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), cruise missiles and fighter aircraft, enhancing Oman’s homeland defence and support for regional security", the State Department said.
Training and rehabilitation programmes also have contributed significantly to the modernisation of the Royal Army of Oman, bin Mahmoud said.
"We believe that co-operation between the two countries also is supported by co-operation from the Gulf to ensure stability in the region," he said, noting that the US and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) are important regional partners.
The recently concluded "Inferno Creek 19" military exercise in Oman "is another chapter in a series of defence and security co-operation between the two countries", strategic expert Saif bin Sultan told Al-Mashareq.
Participants on the Omani side included the 11th Infantry Brigade, the Sultan of Oman’s artillery, parachutes and engineering, and the Royal Air Force of Oman.
US troops included units from the Infantry Division.
Muscat in July hosted a meeting between Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah and then-US Secretary of Defence James Mattis.
The two reaffirmed the defence relationship between the US and Oman, and discussed a wide range of regional security issues, bin Sultan said.
These included "the conflict in Yemen, freedom of navigation and multilateral co-operation to combat terrorism", he added.
Such meetings confirm "Oman is a vital regional security partner of the US, and there are new prospects for strengthening bilateral defence co-operation and for strengthening the security of the Gulf against any potential threats", he said.
A strategic partnership
"The US is a strategic partner of Oman that can help develop its defence forces" with sophisticated military systems and equipment, said Nasir bin Hamoud, a writer who specialises in security issues.
"Oman contributes mainly to protecting the world trade route, especially oil, by securing the Strait of Hormuz," he told Al-Mashareq.
The sultanate has taken measures to support counterterrorism efforts, he said, and in 2005 joined the Container Security Initiative of the US Department of Homeland Security's US Customs and Border Protection Department.
Under this initiative, the sultanate agreed to the pre-inspection of goods shipped to the US from the port of Salalah, in order to prevent the illegal trafficking of arms and other materials.
Furthermore, "the role of the US in providing the sultanate with modern equipment that has helped to protect its coasts and prevent piracy and infiltration across the border [...] cannot be overlooked," bin Hamoud said.