[News] Twenty-First Century Blowback? - Pentagon Digs in Deeper Around the Middle East

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Wed Nov 17 10:55:32 EST 2010

Twenty-First Century Blowback?

As Prospects Dim in Iraq, the Pentagon Digs in Deeper Around the Middle East

By <http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/nickturse>Nick Turse

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The construction projects are sprouting like mushrooms: walled 
complexes, high-strength weapons vaults, and underground bunkers with 
command and control capacities -- and they're being planned and 
funded by a military force intent on embedding itself ever more 
deeply in the Middle East.

If Iran were building these facilities, it would be front-page news 
and American hawks would be talking war, but that country's 
Revolutionary Guards aren't behind this building boom, nor are the 
Syrians, Lebanon's Hezbollah, or some set of al-Qaeda 
affiliates.  It's the U.S. military that's digging in, hardening, 
improving, and expanding its garrisons in and around the Persian Gulf 
at the very moment when it is officially in a draw-down phase in Iraq.

On August 31st, President Obama took to the airwaves to 
"the end of our combat mission in Iraq."  This may, however, prove 
yet another "mission accomplished" moment.  After all, from the lack 
of a real Iraqi air force (other than the 
Air Force) to the fact that there are more American troops in that 
country today than were 
to be there in September 2003, many signs point in another direction.

In fact, within days of the president's announcement it was 
that the U.S. military was pouring money into improving bases in Iraq 
and that advance elements of a combat-hardened armored cavalry 
regiment were being 
there in what was politely dubbed an "advise and assist" (rather than 
combat) role.  On September 13th, the New York Times 
the type of operations that U.S. forces were actually involved in:
"During two days of combat in Diyala Province, American troops were 
armed with mortars, machine guns, and sniper rifles. Apache and Kiowa 
helicopters attacked insurgents with cannon and machine-gun fire, and 
F-16's dropped 500-pound bombs."
According to the report, U.S. troops were within range of enemy hand 
grenades and one American soldier was wounded in the battle.

Adhering to an 
inked during George W. Bush's final year in office, the Obama 
administration has pledged to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by 
the end of 2011.  U.S. military 
have, however, repeatedly spoken of the possibility of 
the U.S. military's stay 
into the future.  Just recently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates 
let the 
government know that the U.S. was open to such a prospect.  "We're 
ready to have that discussion if and when they want to raise it with 
us," he said.  As the British Guardian's Martin 
last month, "[T]he U.S. is widely believed to be hoping to retain at 
least one military base in Iraq that it could use as a strategic 
asset in the region."

Recent events, however, have cast U.S. basing plans into 
turmoil.  Notably unnerving for the Obama administration was a deal 
reportedly brokered by Iran in which Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- 
whose forces had repeatedly clashed with U.S. troops only a few short 
years ago -- threw his support behind Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, 
currently vying for a second term in office.  This was allegedly part 
of a regional agreement involving Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah that 
could leave the U.S. military out in the cold.  A source informed the 
Guardian that "Maliki told [his new regional partners that] he will 
never extend, or renew [any bases] or give any facilities to the 
Americans or British after the end of next year."

Even if the U.S. was forced to withdraw all its troops from Iraq, 
however, its military "footprint" in the Middle East would still be 
substantial enough to rankle opponents of an armed American presence 
in the region and be a drain on U.S. taxpayers who continue to fund 
America's "<http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175091>empire of 
bases."  As has been true 
years, the latest U.S. military documents indicate that base 
expansion and upgrades are the order of the day for America's 
little-mentioned garrisons in the nations around Iraq.

One thing is, by now, clear: whatever transpires in Iraq, the U.S. 
military presence in the Persian Gulf and surrounding environs will 
be formidable well into the future.

Middle Eastern Mega-Bases

As the "last" U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraq under the 
of TV lights in the dead of night and rolled toward Kuwait, there was 
plenty of commentary about where they had been, but almost none about 
where they were going.

In the Gulf War of 1991, the U.S. military helped push Saddam 
Hussein's invading Iraqi army out of Kuwait only to find that the 
country's leader, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, refused to return 
home "until crystal chandeliers and gold-plated bathroom fixtures 
could be reinstalled in Kuwait City's Bayan Palace."  Today, the U.S. 
military's Camp Arifjan, which grew exponentially as the Iraq War 
ramped up, sits 30 miles south of the refurbished royal complex and 
houses about 15,000 U.S. troops.  They have access to all the 
amenities of strip-mall America, including Pizza Hut, Pizza Inn, Taco 
Bell, Starbucks, Hardees, Subway, and Burger King.  The military 
talks little about its presence at Arifjan, but Army contracting 
documents offer clues about its intentions there.  A recent bid 
solicitation, for example, indicated that, in the near future, 
construction would begin there on additional high strength armory 
vaults to house "weapons and sensitive items."

In addition to Camp Arifjan, U.S. military facilities in Kuwait 
include Camps Buehring and Virginia, Kuwait Naval Base, Ali Al Salem 
Air Base, and Udairi Range, a training facility near the Iraqi 
border.  The U.S. military's work is also supported by a Defense 
Logistics Agency (DLA) distribution center in Kuwait, located not on 
a U.S. base but in the Mina Abdulla industrial zone about 30 miles 
south of Kuwait City.

Unlike other DLA hubs, which supply U.S. garrisons around the world, 
the Kuwaiti facility is contractor owned and 
up of a walled compound spanning 104 acres, the complex contains 
eight climate-controlled warehouses, each covering about four acres, 
one 250,000-square-foot covered area for cargo, and six uncovered 
plots of similar size for storage and processing needs.

Typical of base upgrades in Kuwait -- some massive, some modest -- 
now on the drawing boards, recent contracting documents reveal that 
the Army Corps of Engineers intends to upgrade equipment at Kuwait 
Naval Base for the maintenance and repair of ships. In fact, the 
Department of Defense has already issued more than $18 million in 
construction contracts for Kuwait in 2010.

The U.S. military also operates and utilizes bases and other 
facilities in the nearby Persian Gulf nations of Qatar, Bahrain, the 
United Arab Emirates, and Oman.

During the 1930s, the British Royal Air Force operated an airfield on 
Oman's Masirah Island. Today, the U.S. Air Force and members of other 
service branches have settled in there, operating from the island as 
well as other facilities by special agreement with the 
sultanate.  The Air Force is also supported in Oman by "War Reserve 
Materiel" storage and maintenance facilities, operated by defense 
contractor <http://www.dyn-intl.com/logistics.aspx>Dyncorp, in Seeb, 
Thumrait, and Salalah Port.

 From 2001 to 2010, the U.S. military spent about $32 million on 
construction projects in Oman.  In September, the Army upped the ante 
by awarding an $8.6 million contract to refurbish the Royal Air Force 
of Oman's air field at Thumrait Air Base.

U.S. efforts in Bahrain are on a grander scale.  This year, the U.S. 
Navy broke ground on a mega-construction 
<http://www.cusnc.navy.mil/articles/2010/048.html>project to develop 
70 acres of waterfront at the port at Mina Salman.  Scheduled for 
completion in 2015, the complex is slated to include new port 
facilities, barracks for troops, administrative buildings, a dining 
facility, and a recreation center, among other amenities, with a 
price tag of $580 million.

There are similar expenditures in neighboring Qatar.  In 1996, 
lacking an air force of its own, Qatar still built Al Udeid Air Base 
at a cost of more than $1 billion with the goal of attracting the 
U.S. military.  It succeeded.  In September 2001, U.S. aircraft began 
to operate out of the facility. By 2002, the U.S. had tanks, armored 
vehicles, dozens of warehouses, communications and computing 
equipment, and thousands of troops at and around Al Udeid.  In 2003, 
the U.S. moved its major regional combat air operations center out of 
Saudi Arabia and into neighboring Qatar where the government was 
ready to 
almost $400 million on that high-tech command complex.

 From then on, Al Udeid Air Base has served as a major command and 
logistics hub for U.S. regional operations including its wars in Iraq 
and Afghanistan.  Last year, the Pentagon awarded a $52 million 
contract to further upgrade its airfield capabilities, a $44 million 
deal to upgrade other facilities there, and a $6 million contract for 
expanded warehousing capacity.  Nor does the building boom there show 
any signs of abating.  A report by the Congressional Research Service 
issued earlier this year noted:
"The Obama administration requested $60 million in FY2010 military 
construction funds for further upgrades to U.S. military facilities 
in Qatar as part of an ongoing expansion and modernization program 
that has been underway since 2003 at a cost of over $200 million. The 
administration's FY2011 military construction request for Qatar is 
$64.3 million."
Jordan's Bunker Mentality

The Pentagon has also invested heavily in Jordanian military 
infrastructure. One major beneficiary of these projects has been the 
international construction firm Archirodon which, between 2006-2008, 
worked on the construction of the King Abdullah II Special Operations 
Training Center (KASOTC).  It is a state-of-the-art military and 
counterterrorism training facility owned and operated by the 
Jordanian government, but built in part under a $70 million U.S. Army 
Corps of Engineers contract.

In 2009, when that 1,235-acre $200 million Jordanian training center 
was unveiled, King Abdullah II gave the inaugural address, praising 
the facility as a world-class hub for special forces training. 
General David Petraeus, then-head of the U.S. Central Command 
overseeing the Greater Middle East, was also on hand to laud the 
facility as "a center of excellence not only for doctrinal 
development and refinement of TTPs [technology, tactics and 
procedures], but for strengthening the regional security network 
emerging in this area."

Between 2001 and 2009, the Army awarded $89 million in contracts for 
Jordanian construction projects.  This year, it inked deals for 
another $3.3 million (much of it for improvements to 
KASOTC).  Recently, the Army also issued a call for bids for the 
construction of subterranean complexes at three locations in Jordan, 
the largest of them approximately 13,000 square feet.  Each of these 
underground bunkers will reportedly boast a command-and-control 
operations center, offices, sleeping quarters, cafeterias, and 
storage facilities.  The project is set to cost up to $25 million.

1,001 Arabian Contracts

According to a 2009 Congressional Research Service report, from 1950 
to 2006 Saudi Arabia purchased almost $63 billion in weapons, 
military equipment, and related services through the Pentagon's 
Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.  Just last month, the U.S. 
<http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE69J4ML20101020>announced that 
it would conclude new arms deals with the Saudis which would equal 
that sum -- not in another half century but in the next 15 to 20 
years.  Labeled a move to counter Iranian power in the region, the 
deal for advanced tactical fighter aircraft and state-of-the-art 
helicopters garnered headlines.  What didn't were the longstanding, 
ongoing U.S. military construction efforts in that country.

Between 1950 and 2006, Saudi Arabia experienced $17.1 billion in 
construction activity courtesy of the Pentagon.  In the years since, 
according to government data, the Department of Defense has issued 
more than $400 million in construction contracts for the kingdom, 
including $33 million in 2010 for projects ranging from a dining hall 
($6 million) to weapons storage warehouses and ammunition supply 
facilities (nearly $1 million).

Bases and "the Base"

In his 1996 "Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the 
Land of the Two Holy Mosques," Osama bin Laden 

"The presence of the USA Crusader military forces on land, sea and 
air of the states of the Islamic Gulf is the greatest danger 
threatening the largest oil reserve in the world. The existence of 
these forces in the area will provoke the people of the country and 
induces aggression on their religion, feelings, and prides and pushes 
them to take up armed struggle against the invaders occupying the land."
Since then, the U.S. and bin Laden's rag-tag guerrilla force, al 
Qaeda ("the Base"), have been locked in a struggle that has led to 
further massive U.S. base expansions in the greater Middle East and 
South Asia.  At the height of its occupation, the U.S. had 
of bases throughout Iraq.  Today, 
more have been built 
where, in the 1980s, bin Laden and other jihadists, backed and 
financed by the CIA, the Saudis, and the Pakistanis, fought to expel 
the Soviet occupiers of that country.

As early as 2005, the U.S. military was floating the possibility of 
retaining some of its Afghan bases 
In Iraq, plans for similar permanent garrisons have recently been 
thrown into doubt by the very government the U.S. helped install in 
power.  Whatever happens in either war zone, however, one thing is 
clear: the U.S. military will still be deeply dug into the Middle East.

While American infrastructure 
<http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/>crumbles at home, new 
construction continues in oil-rich kingdoms, sultanates, and emirates 
there, courtesy of the Pentagon.  It's a building program guaranteed 
to further inflame anti-American sentiment in the region.  History 
may not repeat itself, but ominously -- just as in 1996 when bin 
Laden issued his declaration -- most Americans have not the slightest 
idea what their military is doing with their tax dollars in the 
Persian Gulf and beyond, or what twenty-first century blowback might 
result from such activities.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com.  An 
award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles 
Times, <http://www.thenation.com/article/pentagon-book-club>the 
at TomDispatch. His latest book, 
Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books), which brings 
together leading analysts from across the political spectrum, has 
just gone into its second printing.  Turse is currently a fellow at 
Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute.  You can follow him on 
Twitter <http://twitter.com/NickTurse>@NickTurse, on 
<http://nickturse.tumblr.com/>Tumblr, and on 
<http://www.facebook.com/nick.turse>Facebook.  His website 

[This article first appeared on 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/>Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation 
Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and 
opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, 
co-founder of <http://www.americanempireproject.com/>the American 
Empire Project, author of 
End of Victory Culture, as of a novel, 
Last Days of Publishing. His latest book is 
American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's (Haymarket Books).]

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