Qatar summoned the U.S. ambassador on Thursday, requesting she explain an online video showing two American soldiers laughing in front of the Arab country's purple-and-white flag. The move prompted a quick apology, a reflection of the importance the small nation has in hosting a major U.S. military base.
Ambassador Dana Shell Smith wrote to a series of users on Twitter that she "apologized to the government of Qatar" and asked the U.S. military to investigate the video. The U.S. Embassy in Doha confirmed the tweets sent on the ambassador's account were genuine, but declined to immediately discuss the video.
Qatar's Foreign Ministry issued its own terse set of tweets over the video, saying Smith "was asked for an explanation of the contents of that video." It didn't elaborate and Qatari officials did not respond to a request for comment, though insulting the Qatari flag is a criminal offense that carries a prison sentence of up to three years and a $55,000 fine.
At issue was a 30-second online clip showing two U.S. soldiers in front of both a U.S. and a Qatari flag. The location and the time the video was shot is unclear, though it appeared to be at a U.S. facility, as the Great Seal of the United States also was behind them on the wall.
The video begins with a soldier saying he was "coming from an unknown disclosed location ... in a place called" before stopping, his eyes wide. He grunts and points to the Qatari flag behind him.
"We have to be serious," the female soldier next to him says.
A male voice from behind the camera answers: "This is as serious as it gets."
Qatar is home to the vast al-Udeid Air Base, which hosts the forward headquarters for U.S. Central Command and aircraft involved in the campaign of airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants in both Syria and Iraq. For many years, U.S. forces referred to the al-Udeid Air Base as only being in Asia out of security concerns, suggesting the soldier in the video may have been making a joke about that.
Officials with U.S. Central Command declined to immediately comment.
Later Thursday, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the U.S. was aware of the video and was looking into the circumstances surrounding it.
"We sincerely regret any offense that video may have caused in Qatar. We have great respect for the state of Qatar and its people," Cook said. "We hold the U.S. military to the highest standards of conduct and we will take appropriate action."