The Bush Administration’s march toward war in Iraq is dangerous in its own right, and should be opposed as such. But the preparations for “Gulf War II” are also part of a larger plan to promote the most significant expansion of US global military presence since the end of the cold war. The Pentagon is determined to maintain access to the rapidly growing network of military facilities it has built or refurbished in the Caucasus, South Asia and the Persian Gulf for decades to come, long after George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein have passed from the global stage.
In the fall of 1999, in his first major campaign speech on foreign policy, Bush criticized the Clinton Administration for sending US troops off on “aimless and endless deployments” that allegedly detracted from their core mission of fighting and winning wars. Bush was primarily referring to US peacekeeping missions in places like Kosovo, but he gave the impression that he was planning to reduce the overall US military presence overseas as well. Three years later, Bush’s pledge to seek a more streamlined US global military presence has been cast aside under the guise of fighting “terrorists and tyrants” of Washington’s choosing.
Since September 2001 US forces have built, upgraded or expanded military facilities in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Turkey, Bulgaria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan; authorized extended training missions or open-ended troop deployments in Djibouti, the Philippines and the former Soviet republic of Georgia; negotiated access to airfields in Kazakhstan; and engaged in major military exercises, involving thousands of US personnel, in Jordan, Kuwait and India. Thousands of tons of military equipment have been added to stockpiles already pre-positioned in Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf states, including Israel, Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar. And discussions are still under way with Yemen about increasing American access to facilities there and establishing an intelligence-gathering installation aimed at monitoring activities in Sudan and Somalia.
These forward bases, many of which have been arranged through secretive, ad hoc arrangements, currently house an estimated 60,000 US military personnel. This includes 20,000-25,000 troops in the Persian Gulf, poised to serve as the opening wave of a US invasion of Iraq.
Funds for training and military aid, which are often used to grease the wheels of US access to overseas military facilities, have been increased substantially since the start of the Administration’s war on terrorism. The budget request for training foreign military personnel is up by 27 percent in the fiscal-year 2003 budget, while funding for the government’s largest military aid program, Foreign Military Financing, is slated to top $4 billion. The bulk of this additional funding is going to countries like Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India, which had previously been under restrictions on what they could receive from the United States because of records of systematic human rights abuses, antidemocratic practices or development of nuclear weapons. Now these same nations are viewed as indispensable allies in the Administration’s war on terrorism.
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The new global buildup represents not so much a return to the cold war, when the United States had many more troops stationed overseas than it does today, but rather an elaboration of a new, more flexible infrastructure for intervening in–or initiating–“hot wars” from the Middle East to the Caucasus to East Asia.
Military analyst William Arkin has noted that in the first four months after the September 11 attacks, thirteen military tent cities were hastily assembled to shelter US personnel in nine different countries. Many of the sites include “expeditionary airfields” that were built or upgraded on short notice to facilitate their use by US combat and transport planes.
Despite protestations to the contrary by Pentagon officials, there are questions about how many of the new US forward bases will in fact be temporary. The US Central Command has long been seeking alternatives to Saudi Arabia to use as springboards for future interventions in the Persian Gulf, as well as access to facilities in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been purposely vague about the length of the US stay at any of the new facilities, Air Force Col. Billy Montgomery, who headed a team that expanded an air base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, for use by US and allied forces in Afghanistan, told the Washington Post, “I think it’s fair to say there will be a long-term presence here well beyond the end of hostilities.”
In a mid-August briefing, Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of the Central Command, suggested that the length of the US military presence in Afghanistan could end up rivaling the fifty-year US presence in South Korea. And if the Bush Administration is not dissuaded from moving full-speed ahead with its plans to invade Iraq, several independent military experts have suggested that an occupying force of 75,000-100,000 troops may be needed to stabilize that country, giving rise to the need for additional formal or informal bases to house US troops.
Growing US Military Presence Since 9/11/01
Qatar: With 600 war planners from the US Central Command scheduled to arrive in November for an “exercise” that could turn into a long-term deployment, it is widely believed that Qatar will serve as the principal base for coordinating US intervention in Iraq. The Pentagon began pouring additional personnel and funding into Qatar’s Al Udeid air base in November 2001 in hopes of using it as an alternative to Saudi bases in the event of military action against Iraq. The facility now has a command center with satellite links that will enable it to coordinate thousands of airstrikes daily. The base, which has one of the longest runways in the Middle East, is currently home to roughly 3,000 US personnel and fifty aircraft, including fighters, bombers and reconnaissance and refueling aircraft. There are also 600 US personnel stationed at an air logistics base in Qatar–referred to by Army officials as “Camp Snoopy”–at which C-5 and C-17 cargo planes routinely come and go, bringing supplies for US forces in Afghanistan and the Gulf. Qatar and Kuwait (see below) are also host to more than three dozen 60,000-square-foot warehouses that contain hundreds of US military vehicles, ranging from M-1 tanks and armored personnel carriers to 155-millimeter howitzers.
Despite public pronouncements by Jordanian officials that their nation will not serve as a launching pad for a US attack on Iraq, US-Jordanian military cooperation has been increasing. During August, 2,200 personnel of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit were in Jordan for “Operation Infinite Moonlight,” which several analysts believe was used as a cover to pre-position additional US military equipment in the Persian Gulf in preparation for war with Iraq. Recent press reports indicate that US forces also have regular access to Jordanian air bases at Ruwayshid and Wadi-al Murbah, both of which are close to the Iraqi border.
Camp Doha is home to 5,000 US Army personnel, plus thousands more that come for regular military exercises in Kuwait. Counting troops in-country for extended exercises and air crews involved in flying F-16 and F-15 aircraft on surveillance missions over southern Iraq, there are now estimated to be more than 9,000 US military personnel in Kuwait. As of the first week of September, 2,000 US troops were en route to Kuwait for “Operation Desert Spring,” an exercise slated to last several months. More than sixty military vehicles are being shipped to Kuwait as part of the exercise, apparently in an effort to bulk up the US arsenal there in anticipation of a war against Iraq.
As a tacit side agreement to the controversial 1981 sale of AWACS radar planes to Saudi Arabia, US contractors built an unparalleled network of air, naval and communications bases in Saudi Arabia that served as the main base of operations for US forces in the Gulf War. The most important of these facilities is the Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh, which has served as the coordinating center for air operations over Iraq and Afghanistan. After initially stating that Saudi bases could not be used for a US strike against Iraq, Saudi officials have now stated that the facilities will be available, provided that the intervention is sanctioned by the UN Security Council. There are currently more than 6,000 US Air Force and Army personnel in Saudi Arabia.
The United States is upgrading an airfield at Musnana for use as an air base that will house everything from fighter aircraft to B-52 bombers. According to GlobalSecurity.org, the United States has used three other bases in Oman to launch airstrikes against Afghanistan. A base at Masirah hosts US P-3 Orion antisubmarine aircraft and AC-130 gunships. Oman is also a major pre-positioning site for the US Air Force, with enough equipment and fuel stored to support three bases and 26,000 support personnel.
The US Fifth Fleet, which coordinates all US combat ships in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean areas, has its headquarters at Manama, Bahrain. Twenty miles south of Manama, Shaikh Isa Air Base hosts US bomber and fighter aircraft, and is expected to serve as the home for a US Air Force expeditionary wing of forty-two aircraft in the near future. Total US personnel in Bahrain number 4,000 or more, most of them in the Navy or Marines.
United Arab Emirates:
The United States has no ongoing military presence in the UAE, but the government allows US reconnaissance and refueling aircraft to use its air bases, and there is some US equipment pre-positioned there for use in contingencies like the Bush Administration’s planned intervention in Iraq.
In August the Pentagon awarded a contract to a Norfolk, Virginia, shipping company to operate eight large “roll-on, roll-off” cargo ships in and around the US base at Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. B-52s based there are likely to come into play in any air war against Iraq; the island may also serve as a stopover point and distribution center for US personnel and equipment headed to the Gulf.
The Pentagon is exploring the possibility of building a signals intelligence base on the Yemeni island of Socotra that would be used to conduct surveillance on Somalia and the Horn of Africa. This past June, a US team arrived in Yemen to begin installation of a computerized surveillance system designed to link the capital of Sanaa with data flowing from major seas, airports and border crossings.
In mid-September it was revealed that 800 US personnel, most of them Special Operations forces, have been deployed in the East African nation of Djibouti, poised for deployment in Yemen, Somalia or Sudan in pursuit of alleged Al Qaeda operatives. The Special Forces deployment is backed up by the stationing nearby of the Belleau Wood, an amphibious assault ship with helicopters and Harrier jump jets that can be used to transport US personnel in Djibouti into battle in neighboring nations.
Turkey’s Incirlik air base, which has served as the launching ground for US airstrikes and surveillance missions over northern Iraq for more than a decade, is home to an estimated four dozen US surveillance and strike aircraft (the exact number is classified). The Pentagon hopes to use Incirlik as a major staging ground in its planned air war against Iraq, and has been courting Ankara with major arms sales, including transfers of Seahawk antisubmarine helicopters, two fully outfitted combat frigates and a pledge to cancel a substantial portion of Turkey’s multibillion-dollar military debt to the United States.
As part of a two-year, $64 million “train and equip” mission, US Special Forces will be deployed to Georgia to train a 2,000-person antiterrorist force designed to patrol the Pankisi Gorge, an alleged refuge for Chechen rebels and Al Qaeda fighters. Barracks and other facilities for the US trainers will be built in cooperation with the Kellogg Brown & Root division of Halliburton industries.
The two main US bases in Afghanistan are at Bagram, where the headquarters for US military operations in the country is based, along with roughly 5,000 US personnel; and in Kandahar, where 3,000-4,000 troops from the 101st Airborne Division are based, along with a detention facility for Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.
Pursuant to an agreement struck with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last December, US forces have taken over an air base at Jacobabad, in southwestern Pakistan, and are building air-conditioned barracks and a higher security wall. American forces will also continue to use airfields at Pasni and Dalbandin for the foreseeable future, as part of what one Pakistani source predicts will become a “semipermanent presence” of US forces in Pakistan.
Roughly 1,500 US troops are stationed at Khanabad, a former Soviet facility that is the largest air base in Central Asia. The US Air Force is scouting sites to set up a more permanent facility in Uzbekistan.
The Manas air base, also known as the Peter J. Ganci base in honor of a New York City fireman who died in the World Trade Center rescue effort, is home to 2,000 troops–1,000 American and 1,000 from coalition partners Australia, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and Spain. American officials claim that the base will be closed after the war in Afghanistan is over, but sources familiar with the extensive infrastructure that has been built, including a central power plant, a hospital and two industrial-size kitchens, expect US forces to be stationed there for years to come.
This past July the United States and Kazakhstan signed an agreement to allow US military aircraft to make emergency landings–for a fee–at Kazakhstan’s largest civilian airport, in Almaty. In addition, the Bush Administration has requested $5 million in military aid in the fiscal-year 2003 budget to refurbish an air base in order to establish “a US-interoperable base along the oil-rich Caspian.”
After the September 11 attacks, Tajikistan was one of the first Central Asian states to offer the Pentagon access to bases, overflight rights and the use of its territory by US military personnel. Bases at Khujand, Kulyab and Kurgan-Tyube are available to US forces as needed, but unlike the larger bases in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, they have yet to become a major focus of activity.
More than 1,300 US troops were involved in “counterterrorism training” in the Philippines from February through July of this year, assisting local military forces in their efforts to wipe out the remnants of the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla movement, which Philippine security officials claim forged ties with Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s. In parallel to the training mission, US military aid to the Philippines was increased tenfold, from $1.9 million to $19 million. A cadre of 100 US military personnel remained in the Philippines after the larger contingent withdrew in July. The Pentagon plans several other major training missions in the Philippines in the next year.
Sources: Center for Defense Information; GlobalSecurity.org; David Isenberg, “By Infinite Moonlight, US Readies for War,” Asia Times, August 29, 2002; US Defense Department; and numerous news stories from the Washington Post, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New Orleans Times-Picayune, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and William Arkin’s “Dot.mil” column in the Washington Post Online.