[News] The Pentagon Garrisons the Gulf
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 24 11:43:00 EST 2009
The Pentagon Garrisons the Gulf
As Washington Talks Iraq Withdrawal, the Pentagon Builds Up Bases in the Region
By Nick Turse
Despite recent large-scale insurgent suicide
bombings that have
scores of civilians and the fact that well over
100,000 U.S. troops are still deployed in that
country, coverage of the U.S. war in Iraq has
been largely replaced in the mainstream press by
the (previously) "forgotten war" in Afghanistan.
A major reason for this is the plan, developed at
the end of the Bush years and confirmed by
President Obama, to
down U.S. troops in Iraq to 50,000 by August 2010
most of the remaining forces by December 2011.
Getting out of Iraq, however, doesn't mean
getting out of the Middle East. For one thing,
it's likely that a sizeable contingent of U.S.
forces will remain garrisoned on several large
and remotely situated U.S. bases in Iraq well
past December 2011. Still others will be
stationed close by -- on bases throughout the
region where, with little
attention since the run-up to the invasion of
Iraq in 2003, construction to harden, expand, and
upgrade U.S. and allied facilities has gone on to this day.
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services
Committee early this year, General David
Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command
(CENTCOM), stated: "The Arabian Peninsula
commands significant U.S. attention and focus
because of its importance to our interests and
the potential for insecurity." He
"[T]he countries of the Arabian Peninsula are key
partners... CENTCOM ground, air, maritime, and
special operations forces participate in numerous
operations and training events, bilateral and
multilateral, with our partners from the
Peninsula. We help develop indigenous
capabilities for counter terrorism; border,
maritime, and critical infrastructure security;
and deterring Iranian aggression. As a part of
all this, our FMS [Foreign Military Sales] and
FMF [Foreign Military Financing] programs are
helping to improve the capabilities and
interoperability of our partners' forces. We are
also working toward an integrated air and missile
defense network for the Gulf. All of these
cooperative efforts are facilitated by the
critical base and port facilities that Bahrain,
Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE [United Arab Emirates],
and others provide for US forces."
In fact, since 2001 the Pentagon has been pouring
significant sums of money into the "critical base
and port facilities" mentioned by the general --
both U.S. sites and those of its key regional
partners. These are often ignored
facts-on-the-ground, which signal just how
enduring the U.S. military presence in the region
is likely to be, no matter what happens in Iraq.
Press coverage of this long-term infrastructural
build-up has been remarkably minimal, given the
implications for future conflicts in the oil
heartlands of the planet. After all, Washington
is sending tremendous amounts of military
materiel into autocratic Middle Eastern nations
and building-up bases in countries whose
due to domestic public opinion, often prefer that
no publicity be given to the growing American military "footprint."
Given that the current conflict with al-Qaeda
stemmed, in no small part, from the U.S. military
presence in the region, the issue is obviously of
importance. Nonetheless, coverage has been so
poor that much about U.S. military efforts there
remains unknown. A review of U.S. government
documents, financial data, and other open-source
material by TomDispatch, however, reveals that an
American military building boom yet to be
seriously scrutinized, analyzed, or assessed is underway in the Middle East.
Consider, then, what we can at present know now
about this Pentagon build-up, country by country
from Qatar to Jordan, and while you're reading,
think about what we don't know -- and why Washington has chosen this path.
Qatar: The Pentagon's Persian Gulf Pentagon
In 1996, although it had no air force of its own,
the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar built
Udeid Air Base at a cost of more than $1 billion.
The goal: attracting the U.S. military. In
September 2001, U.S. aircraft began to operate
out of the facility. By 2002, tanks, armored
vehicles, dozens of warehouses, communications
and computing equipment, and thousands of troops
and around Al Udeid. In 2005, the Qatari
government spent almost $400 million to build a
air operations center.
Today, Qatar is all but indispensable to the U.S.
military. Just recently, for example, Central
Command redeployed 750 personnel from its Tampa,
Florida headquarters to its new forward
headquarters at Al Udeid to test its "staff's
ability to seamlessly transition command and
control of operations
in the event of a crisis
in the CENTCOM area of responsibility or a natural disaster in Florida."
Qatar has not, however, picked up the whole tab
for the expanding U.S. military infrastructure in
the country. The Pentagon has also been investing
large amounts of money in upgrading facilities
there for the last decade. From 2001-2009, the
U.S. Army, for example, awarded $209 million in
contracts for construction in the energy-rich
emirate. In August, Rizzani de Eccher, an Italian
engineering and construction giant, signed a $44
million deal with the Pentagon to replace an
unspecified facility at Al Udeid. In September,
the Department of Defense (DoD) awarded
Florida-based IAP Worldwide Services a $6 million
contract for "construction of a pre-engineered
warehouse building... warehouse bay and related
site work and utilities" at the base.
Later in the month,
International Contractors, a global construction
firm that specializes in "US-funded Middle East
and African infrastructure projects," inked a
deal for nearly $10 million to build a Special
Operations Forces Training Range, complete with
"a two-story shooting house, an indoor range,
breach and storage facilities[,] a test fire
bunker and bunker road" in Qatar. Just days after
that, the Pentagon awarded a $52 million contract
to CosmopolitanEMTA JV to upgrade the capacity
of Al Udeid's airfield by building additional
aircraft parking ramps and fuel storage facilities.
Bahrain Base's and Kuwait's Subways
In nearby Bahrain -- a tiny kingdom of 750,000
people -- the U.S.
up to 3,000 personnel, in addition to regular
visits by the crews of Navy ships that spend time
there. Between 2001-2009, the Navy awarded $203
million in construction contracts for military
projects in the country. One big winner over that
span has been the engineering and construction
International. It received more than $50 million
in U.S. government funds for such projects as
building two "multi-story facilities for the U.S.
Navy" complete with state-of-the-art
communication interfaces and exterior landscaping.
In September 2009, the company was awarded a new
$27 million deal "for the design/bid/build
construction of the waterfront development
program, US Naval Support Activity, Bahrain."
This facility will join the Navy's undisputed
jewel in Bahrain -- a 188,000 square-foot
mega-facility known as "the Freedom Souq" that
houses a PX or Navy Exchange (NEX). The NEX, in
turn, offers "an ice cream shop, bicycle shop,
cell phone shop, tailor shop, barber and beauty
shops, self-serve laundry, dry cleaning service,
rug Souq, nutrition shop, video rental, and a
24/7 mini-mart," while selling everything from
cosmetics and cameras to beer and wine.
Work is also going on in nearby Oman where, in
the 1930s, the British Royal Air Force utilized
an airfield on Masirah Island for its ventures in
the Middle East. Today, the U.S. Air Force and
members of other service branches do much the
same, operating out of the island's Camp Justice.
From 2001-2009, the Army and Air Force each
spent about $13 million on construction projects
in the sultanate. Contractor Cosmopolitan-EMTA JV
is now set to begin work there, too, after
recently signing a $5 million contract with the
Pentagon for an "Expeditionary Tent Beddown"
(presumably an area meant to accommodate a
potential future influx of forces). Meanwhile, in
the neighboring United Arab Emirates, the U.S.
Army alone spent $46 million between 2001-2009 on construction projects.
In 1991, the U.S. military helped to push Saddam
Hussein's army out of Kuwait. After that,
however, the country's leader, Sheikh Jaber
to return home "until crystal chandeliers and
gold-plated bathroom fixtures could be
reinstalled in Kuwait City's Bayan Palace."
Today, about 30 miles south of the plush palace
sits another pricey complex.
Arifjan grew exponentially as the Iraq War ramped
up, gaining notoriety along the way as the
of a massive graft and corruption scandal. Today,
about 15,000 U.S. troops and features such
fast-food favorites as Pizza Hut, Hardees, Subway, and Burger King.
Another facility in Kuwait that has become a
major stopover point on the road to and from
Baghdad is Camp Buehring. Located north of Kuwait
City, near the town of Udairi, the installation
is chock-a-block full of amenities, including
three PXs, telephone centers, two internet cafes,
Morale, Welfare and Recreation centers, a movie
theater, chapel, gym, volley-ball court,
basketball court, concert stage, gift shop,
barber shop, jewelry store, and a number of
popular eateries including Burger King, Subway, Baskin Robbins, and Starbucks.
Writing about the base recently, Captain Charles
Barrett of the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Heavy
Brigade Combat Team
"There's a USO with computers and a Café. You
know the café is good because it has that little
mark over the letter 'e.' Soldiers are gaming on
XBOX, Play Station and Wii. There are phone banks
and board games and a place where parents can
read to their kids and have the DVD mailed home."
The price tag for living the big-box-base
lifestyle in Kuwait has, however, been steep.
From 2003 to 2009, the U.S. Army spent in excess
of $502 million on contracts for construction
projects in the small, oil-rich nation, while the
Air Force added almost $55 million and the Navy
another $7 million. Total military spending there
has been more massive still. Over the same span,
according to U.S. government data, the Pentagon
has spent nearly $20 billion in Kuwait, buying
huge quantities of Kuwaiti oil and purchasing
logistical support from various contractors for
its facilities there (and elsewhere), among other expenditures.
In 2006, for example, the international
construction firm Archirodon was awarded $10
million to upgrade airfield lighting at Al-Salem
and Al-Jaber, two Kuwaiti
bases used by American forces. Recently, there
has also been a major scaling up of work at Camp
Arifjan. In September, for example, the Pentagon
Hill Contractors a nearly $26 million deal to
build a new communications facility on the base.
Just days later, defense contractor ITT received
an almost $87 million contract for maintenance and support services there.
Saudi Base Building and Jordan's U.S. Army Training Complex
According to a recent Congressional Research
Service report, "From 1950 through 2006, Saudi
Arabia purchased and received from the United
States weapons, military equipment, and related
services through Foreign Military Sales (FMS)
worth over $62.7 billion and foreign military
construction services (FMCS) worth over $17.1
billion." Between 1946 and 2007, the Saudis also
benefited from almost $295 million in foreign
assistance funding from the U.S. military.
From the lead up to the First Gulf War in 1990
through the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S.
military stationed thousands of troops in Saudi
Arabia. The American presence in the kingdom --
the location of some of the holiest sites in
Islam -- was a major factor in touching off
al-Qaeda's current war with the United States. In
to fundamentalist pressure on the Saudi
government, the U.S. military announced it was
all but a small number of trainers out of the
country. Yet while many U.S. troops have left,
Pentagon contracts haven't -- a significant
portion of them for construction projects for the
Saudi Arabian military, which the U.S. trains and
advises from sites like Eskan Village, a compound
20 kilometers south of Riyadh, where 800 U.S.
personnel (500 of them advisors) are
Between 2003-2009, the U.S. Army awarded $559
million in contracts for Saudi construction
projects. In 2009, for example, it gave a $160
million deal to construction firm
Oger Limited for the construction of facilities
for a Saudi mechanized brigade based at Al Hasa,
a $127 million contract to
Modern Construction Co. to erect structures for
the Prince Turki Bin Abdul Aziz Battalion, and an
$82 million agreement to top Saudi construction
Trading and Contracting Company to build
ammunition storage bunkers, possibly at the Saudi
Arabian National Guard's Khashm Al An Training Area.
has continued to flow into Saudi Arabia by way of
the Pentagon and so, too, have contracts to
provide support services for that materiel. For
example, earlier this year, under a U.S. Air
Force contract extension, Cubic Corporation was
a $9.5 million deal "to continue to operate and
maintain the air combat training system used to
support F-15 fighter pilot training for the Royal Saudi Air Force."
Like the Saudis, Jordan's leader, King Abdullah
II, has long had a
relationship with the U.S.
by domestic concerns over U.S. military action in
the region and support for Israel. As with Saudi
Arabia, none of that has stopped the U.S.
military from forging ever closer ties with the kingdom.
Recently, after testing and evaluating various
training systems at multiple U.S. Army bases, the
Jordanian Armed Forces selected Cubic's combat
training center system and under the auspices of
the U.S. Army, the company was "awarded an $18
million contract to supply mobile combat training
center instrumentation and training services to the Kingdom of Jordan."
The Pentagon has also invested in Jordanian
military infrastructure. Between 2001-2009, the
Army awarded $86 million in contracts for
Jordanian construction projects. One major
beneficiary was again Archirodon which, between
2006-2008, worked on the construction of the
Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center
(KASOTC) -- a state-of-the-art military and
owned and operated by the Jordanian government
but built, in part, under a $70 million U.S. Army
contract. In 2009, Archirodon was awarded two
additional contracts for $729,000 and $400,000,
by the Air Force, for unspecified work in Jordan.
When that 1,235-acre $200 million Jordanian
training center was unveiled earlier this year,
King Abdullah II himself gave the inaugural
"of his vision for KASOTC as a world-class
special forces training center." Not
surprisingly, General Petraeus was also on hand
to give a speech in which he lauded Jordan as "a
key partner... [which] has placed itself at the
forefront of police and military training for regional security forces."
Garrisoning the Gulf
Even as it lurches toward a quasi-withdrawal from
Iraq, the U.S. military has been hunkering down
and hardening its presence elsewhere in the
Middle East with little fanfare or press
coverage. There has been almost no discussion in
this country of a host of possible repercussions
that might come from this, ranging from local
opposition to the U.S. military's presence to the
arming of undemocratic and repressive regimes in
the region. With the sole exception of Iran, the
U.S. military has fully garrisoned the nations of
the Persian Gulf with air bases, naval bases,
desert posts, training centers, and a whole host
of other facilities, while also building up the
military capacity of nearby Jordan.
The CIA efforts to topple Iran's government in
the 1950s, Washington's support for Saddam
Hussein's Iraq in the 1980s, the Pentagon's troop
presence in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s -- all were
considered canny geopolitical moves in their
time; all had unforeseen and devastating
consequences. The money the Pentagon has recently
been pouring into the nations of the Persian Gulf
to bulk up base infrastructure has only tied the
U.S. ever more tightly to the region's
autocratic, often unpopular regimes, while
further arming and militarizing an area
traditionally considered unstable. The Pentagon's
Persian Gulf base build-up has already cost
Americans billions in tax dollars. What the costs
in "blowback" will be remains the unknown part of the equation.
Nick Turse is the associate editor of
TomDispatch.com and the winner of a 2009
Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as
well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice
Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los
Nation, In These Times, and regularly at
TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New
York University's Center for the United States
and the Cold War. A paperback edition of his book
Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday
Lives (Metropolitan Books) was published earlier
this year. His website is <http://www.nickturse.com/>NickTurse.com.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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