Manama: Britain on Monday said that it would open a major new military base in Oman in a drive to boost UK influence post-Brexit.
Hundreds of troops will deploy to the permanent joint training base in the Middle East from next March, the month Britain leaves the European Union, the Daily Mail reported.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson made the announcement as he watched the culmination of Britain’s biggest war games exercise in nearly two decades.
In scenes reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher in 1986, he rode to a live firepower demonstration in a Challenger 2 main battle tank.
He emerged from the turret wearing a helmet and body armour, with a Union Jack flag flying behind him.
According to the Daily Mail, Baroness Thatcher was similarly photographed in a Challenger after the Falklands War. Williamson said he did not have the former PM in mind when he got inside the tank, but the visit was a great chance to speak to soldiers in the desert.
The Saif Sareea-3 war games involved 5,500 British soldiers and 70,000 Omani staff, simulating an invasion scenario: “This is the largest military exercise that is going on in the world at present. Britain isn’t retreating from the world. We are stepping out,” Williamson was quoted as saying.
In April, and 47 years after it left its original navy base in Manama following the country’s declaration of independence, Britain opened a permanent military base in Bahrain in its attempt to boost its role as a “major player” in the Middle East.
British sources said the UK Naval Support facility at Mina Salman would be staffed by up to 500 soldiers, sailors and airmen.
The Bahrain base supports the operation of bigger ships in the Arabian Gulf, including the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carriers.
The deal to open the base announced in 2014 was described by then foreign secretary Philip Hammond as “a watershed moment in the UK’s commitment to the region”.
Prince Andrew officially opened the base with Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa at a ceremony.
“The aim of the Royal Navy being out here anyway is to enhance and ensure the maritime security in the region, and whether or not that’s law and order on the high seas, countering piracy, countering terrorism, making sure that the high seas are all safe for the free-flow of commerce, the free flow of trade to be able to take place,” Commodore Steve Dainton said.