[News] Twenty-First Century Blowback? - Pentagon Digs in Deeper Around the Middle East
news at freedomarchives.org
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
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
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
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.
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
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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