[News] Empire of Bases - Does the Pentagon Really Have 1, 180 Foreign Bases?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sun Jan 9 21:44:11 EST 2011


Empire of Bases 2.0
Does the Pentagon Really Have 1,180 Foreign Bases?
By <http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/nickturse>Nick Turse

The United States has 460 bases overseas!  It has 507 permanent 
bases!  What is the U.S doing with more than 560 foreign bases?  Why 
does it have 662 bases abroad?  Does the United States really have 
more than 1,000 military bases across the globe?

In a world of statistics and precision, a world in which 
"accountability" is now a Washington buzzword, a world where all 
information is available at the click of a mouse, there's one number 
no American knows.  Not the president.  Not the Pentagon.  Not the 
experts.  No one.

The man who wrote the definitive book on it didn't know for 
sure.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist didn't 
even come close.  Yours truly has written numerous articles on U.S. 
military bases and even 
of a book on the subject, but failed like the rest.

There are more than 1,000 U.S. military bases dotting the globe.  To 
be specific, the most accurate count is 1,077.  Unless it's 
1,088.  Or, if you count differently, 1,169.  Or even 
1,180.  Actually, the number might even be higher.  Nobody knows for sure.

Keeping Count

In a recent 
piece, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof made a trenchant 
point: "The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and 
other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 
65 years ago. Do we fear that if we pull our bases from Germany, 
Russia might invade?"

For years, the late Chalmers Johnson, the man who literally wrote the 
book on the U.S. military's 
of bases, 
Sorrows of Empire, made the same point and backed it with the most 
detailed research on the globe-spanning American archipelago of bases 
that has ever been assembled.  Several years ago, after mining the 
Pentagon's own publicly-available documents, Johnson wrote, "[T]he 
United States maintains 761 active military 'sites' in foreign 
countries. (That's the Defense Department's preferred term, rather 
than 'bases,' although bases are what they are.)"

Recently, the Pentagon updated its numbers on bases and other sites, 
and they have dropped.  Whether they've fallen to the level advanced 
by Kristof, however, is a matter of interpretation.  According to the 
Department of Defense's 2010 Base Structure Report, the U.S. military 
now maintains 662 foreign sites in 38 countries around the 
world.  Dig into that report more deeply, though, and Grand 
Canyon-sized gaps begin to emerge.

A Legacy of Bases

In 1955, 10 years after World War II ended, the Chicago Daily Tribune 
published a major investigation of bases, including a map dotted with 
little stars and triangles, most of them clustered in Europe and the 
Pacific.  "The American flag flies over more than 300 overseas 
outposts," wrote reporter Walter Trohan.  "Camps and barracks and 
bases cover 12 American possessions or territories held in 
trust.  The foreign bases are in 63 foreign nations or islands."

Today, according to the Pentagon's published figures, the American 
flag flies over 750 U.S. military sites in foreign nations and U.S. 
territories abroad.  This figure does not include small foreign sites 
of less 10 acres or those that the U.S. military values at less than 
$10 million.  In some cases, numerous bases of this type may be 
folded together and counted as a single military installation in a 
given country.  A request for further clarification from the 
Department of Defense went unanswered.

What we do know is that, on the foreign outposts the U.S. military 
counts, it controls close to 52,000 buildings, and more than 38,000 
pieces of heavy infrastructure like piers, wharves, and gigantic 
storage tanks, not to mention more than 9,100 "linear structures" 
like runways, rail lines, and pipelines.   Add in more than 6,300 
buildings, 3,500 pieces of infrastructure, and 928 linear structures 
in U.S. territories and you have an impressive total.  And yet, it 
isn't close to the full story.

Losing Count

Last January, Colonel Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for the U.S.-led 
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), told me that there 
400 U.S. and coalition bases in Afghanistan, including camps, forward 
operating bases, and combat outposts.  He expected that number to 
increase by 12 or more, he added, over the course of 2010.
In September, I contacted ISAF's Joint Command Public Affairs Office 
to follow up.  To my surprise, I was told that "there are 
approximately 350 forward operating bases with two major military 
installations, Bagram and Kandahar airfields."  Perplexed by the loss 
of 50 bases instead of a gain of 12, I contacted Gary Younger, a 
Public Affairs Officer with the International Security Assistance 
Force.  "There are less than 10 NATO bases in Afghanistan," he wrote 
in an October 2010 email.  "There are over 250 U.S. bases in Afghanistan."

By then, it seemed, the U.S. had lost up to 150 bases and I was 
thoroughly confused.  When I contacted the military to sort out the 
discrepancies and listed the numbers I had been given -- from Shanks' 
400 base tally to the count of around 250 by Younger -- I was handed 
off again and again until I landed with Sergeant First Class Eric 
Brown at ISAF Joint Command's Public Affairs.  "The number of bases 
in Afghanistan is roughly 411," Brown wrote in a November email, 
"which is a figure comprised of large base[s], all the way down to 
the Combat Out Post-level."  Even this, he cautioned, wasn't actually 
a full list, because "temporary positions occupied by platoon-sized 
elements or less" were not counted.

Along the way to this "final" tally, I was offered a number of 
explanations --  from different methods of accounting to the failure 
of units in the field to provide accurate information -- for the 
conflicting numbers I had been given.  After months of exchanging 
emails and seeing the numbers swing wildly, ending up with roughly 
the same count in November as I began with in January suggests that 
the U.S. command isn't keeping careful track of the number of bases 
in Afghanistan.  Apparently, the military simply does not know how 
many bases it has in its primary theater of operations.

Black Sites in Baseworld

Scan the Department of Defense's 2010 Base Structure Report for sites 
in Afghanistan.  Go ahead, read through all 206 pages.  You won't 
find a mention of them, not a citation, not a single reference, not 
an inkling that the United States has even one base in Afghanistan, 
let alone more than 400.  This is hardly an insignificant 
omission.  Add those 411 missing bases to Kristof's total and you get 
971 sites around the world.  Add it to the Pentagon's official tally 
and you're left with 1,073 bases and sites overseas, around 770 more 
than Walter Trohan uncovered for his 1955 article.  That number even 
tops the 1967 count of 1,014 U.S. bases abroad, which Chalmers 
Johnson considered "the Cold War peak."

There are, however, 
ways to tally the total.  In a letter written last Spring, Senator 
Ron Wyden and Representatives Barney Frank, Ron Paul, and Walter 
Jones asserted that there were just 460 U.S. military installations 
abroad, not counting those in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Nicholas 
Kristof, who came up with a count of 100 more than that, didn't 
respond to an email for clarification, but may have done the same 
analysis as I did: search the Pentagon's Base Structure Report and 
select out the obvious sites that, while having a sizeable 
"footprint," could only tenuously be counted as bases, like dependent 
family housing complexes and schools, 
hotels (yes, the Department of Defense has them), 
areas (them, too) and the largest of their 
<http://www.alternet.org/economy/82009/>golf courses -- the U.S. 
military claimed to possess a total of 172 courses of all sizes in 
2007 -- and you get a total of around 570 foreign sites.  Add to them 
the number of Afghan bases and you're left with about 981 foreign 
military bases.

As it happens, though, Afghanistan isn't the only country with a 
baseworld black-out.  Search the Pentagon's tally for sites in Iraq 
and you won't find a single entry.  (That was true even when the U.S. 
reportedly had 
than 400 bases in that country.)  Today, the U.S. military footprint 
there has shrunk radically.  The Department of Defense declined to 
respond to an email request for the current number of bases in Iraq, 
but published reports indicate that no fewer than 88 are still there, 
including Camp Taji, 
Operating Base Speicher, and 
Base Balad, which, alone, boasts about 7,000 American troops.  These 
missing bases would raise the worldwide total to about 1,069.

War zones aren't the only secret spots.  Take a close look at 
Eastern nations whose governments, fearing domestic public opinion, 
prefer that no publicity be given to American military 
on their territory, and then compare it to the Pentagon's official 
list.  To give an example, the 2010 Base Structure Report lists one 
nameless U.S. site in Kuwait.  Yet we know that the Persian Gulf 
state hosts a number of U.S. military facilities including 
Naval Base, <http://www.wgmd.com/?p=14568&cpage=1>Ali Al Salem Air 
Base, and 
Range.  Add in these missing sites and the total number of bases 
abroad reaches 1,074.

Check the Pentagon's base tally for Qatar and you'll come up 
empty.  But look at the numbers of Department of Defense personnel 
serving overseas and you'll find more than 550 service men and women 
deployed there.  While that Persian Gulf nation may have officially 
built Al Udeid Air Base itself, to call it anything but a U.S. 
installation would be disingenuous, given that it has served as a 
logistics and command hub for the U.S. wars in Iraq and 
Afghanistan.  Add it in and the foreign base count reaches 1,075.

Saudi Arabia is also missing from the Pentagon's tally, even though 
the current list of personnel abroad indicates that hundreds of U.S. 
troops are deployed there.  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 the kingdom. In 2003, in response to 
fundamentalist pressure on the Saudi government, Washington announced 
that it was pulling all but a small number of troops out of the 
country. Yet the U.S. continues to train and advise from sites like 
Eskan Village, a compound 20 kilometers south of Riyadh where, 
according to 2009 numbers, 800 U.S. personnel (500 of them advisors) 
were based.

Discounted, Uncounted, and Unknown

In addition to the unknown number of micro-bases that the Pentagon 
doesn't even bother to count and Middle Eastern and Afghan bases that 
fly under the radar, there are even darker areas in the empire of 
bases: installations belonging to other countries that are used but 
not acknowledged by the United States or avowed by the host-nation 
need to be counted, too.  For example, it is now well known that U.S. 
drone aircraft, operating under the auspices of 
the CIA and the Air Force and conducting a not-so-secret war in 
off from one or more bases in that country.

Additionally, there are other sites like the "covert forward 
operating base run by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command 
(JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi," 
<http://www.thenation.com/article/secret-us-war-pakistan>exposed by 
Jeremy Scahill in the Nation magazine, and one or more airfields run 
by employees of the private security contractor 
(now renamed Xe Services).  While the Department of Defense's 
personnel tally indicates that there are well over a hundred troops 
deployed in Pakistan, it counts no bases there.

Similarly uncounted are the U.S. Navy's 
strike groups, flotillas that consist of massive 
carriers, the largest warships in the world, as well as a guided 
missile cruiser, two guided missile destroyers, an attack submarine, 
and an ammunition, oiler, and supply ship.  The U.S. boasts 11 such 
town-sized floating bases that can travel the world, as well as 
numerous other ships, some boasting well over 1,000 officers and 
crew, that may, 
<http://www.navy.com/navy/about/locations/ports.html>says the Navy, 
travel "to any of more than 100 ports of call worldwide" from Hong 
Kong to Rio de Janeiro.

"The ability to conduct logistics functions afloat enables naval 
forces to maintain station anywhere," reads the Navy's Naval 
Operations Concept: 2010.  So these bases that float under the radar 
should really be counted, too.

A Bang, A Whimper, and the Alamo of the Twenty-First Century

Speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on 
Military Construction, Veterans, and Related Agencies early last 
year, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Dorothy Robyn referenced the 
Pentagon's "507 permanent installations."  The Pentagon's 2010 Base 
Structure Report, on the other hand, lists 4,999 total sites in the 
U.S., its territories, and overseas.

In the grand scheme of things, the actual numbers aren't all that 
important.  Whether the most accurate total is 900 bases, 1,000 bases 
or 1,100 posts in foreign lands, what's undeniable is that the U.S. 
military maintains, in Chalmers Johnson's famous phrase, an empire of 
bases so large and shadowy that no one -- not even at the Pentagon -- 
really knows its full size and scope.

All we know is that it raises the ire of adversaries 
al Qaeda, has a tendency to grate on even the 
of allies like 
Japanese, and costs American taxpayers a fortune every year.  In 
2010, according to Robyn, military construction and housing costs at 
all U.S. bases ran to $23.2 billion.  An additional $14.6 billion was 
needed for maintenance, repair, and recapitalization.  To power its 
facilities, according to 2009 figures, the Pentagon spent $3.8 
billion. And that likely doesn't even scratch the surface of 
America's baseworld in terms of its full economic cost.

Like all empires, the U.S. military's empire of bases will someday 
crumble.  These bases, however, are not apt to fall like so many 
dominos in some silver-screen last-stand sequence.  They won't, that 
is, go out with the "bang" of futuristic Alamos, but with the 
"whimper" of insolvency.

Last year, 
began even among Washington lawmakers about this increasingly likely 
prospect.  "I do not think we should be spending money to have troops 
in Germany 65 years after World War II. We have a terrible deficit 
and we have to cut back," said Massachusetts Democratic Congressman 
Barney Frank.  Similarly, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of 
Texas announced, "If the United States really wants to assure our 
allies and deter our enemies, we should do it with strong military 
capabilities and sound policy -- not by keeping troops stationed 
overseas, not siphoning funds from equipment and arms and putting it 
into duplicative military construction."

Indeed, toward the end of 2010, the White House's bipartisan deficit 
commission -- officially known as the National Commission on Fiscal 
Responsibility and Reform -- suggested cutting U.S. garrisons in 
Europe and Asia by one-third, which would, in their estimation, save 
about $8.5 billion in 2015.

The empire of bases, while still at or close to its height, is 
destined to shrink.  The military is going to have to scale back its 
foreign footholds and lessen its global footprint in the years 
ahead.  Economic realities will necessitate that.  The choices the 
Pentagon makes today will likely determine on what terms its 
garrisons come home tomorrow.  At the moment, they can still choose 
whether coming home will look like an act of magnanimous good 
statesmanship or inglorious retreat.

Whatever the decision, the clock is ticking, and before any 
withdrawals begin, the U.S. military needs to know exactly where it's 
withdrawing from (and Americans should have an accurate sense of just 
where its overseas armies are).  An honest count of U.S. bases abroad 
-- a true, full, and comprehensive list -- would be a tiny first step 
in the necessary process of downsizing the global mission.

Nick Turse is an investigative journalist, the associate editor of 
<http://tomdispatch.com/>TomDispatch.com, and currently a fellow at 
Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute. His latest book is 
Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books).  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 is 
<http://www.nickturse.com/>NickTurse.com.  To catch Timothy MacBain's 
latest TomCast audio interview in which Turse discusses how to count 
up America's empire of bases, 
<http://tomdispatch.blogspot.com/2011/01/way-off-base.html>click here 
or, to download it to your iPod, 

Copyright 2011 Nick Turse

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