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The ever-growing US military footprint
By David Isenberg

The war in Iraq is over, so that means that the troops are coming home and the United States is reducing its presence - what military planners like to call its "footprint" in the region, right? Well, wrong, actually.

Contrary to much of the recent news coverage about Pentagon pronouncements on the US seeking to reduce its presence in Saudi Arabia, the fact of the matter is that when one looks at the big picture, the US has a huge military presence in the region. And it is not going anywhere. Considering the rhetoric that has come out in the past month from the neoconservative camp and administration officials about their unhappiness with countries such as Syria and Iran, the US military ability to reach out and touch someone must be taken very seriously.

A report by the Pacific Life Research Center, "Understanding the War On Terrorism": Preemptive Force - A Sequel" by Bob Aldridge details the bases that are now under the control of the US Central Command (CENTCOM).

Contrary to US policy during the Cold War when the US stationed hundreds of thousands of troops in Europe, the current Pentagon strategy is to have "long-term access" to bases, rather than a permanent presence. Thus, forces can be shifted among numerous accessible points to meet various "threats", rather than have a full complement of troops at a few permanent locations.

Some bases are reasonably well known, due to their use in the war against Iraq. For example, in Qatar the army base at Camp As-Sayliyah served as CENTCOM's forward headquarters and command center. Similarly, al-Udeid Air Base serves as the headquarters for CENTAF, CENTCOM's air component. There is also a base for pre-positioned army equipment at Doha airport, dubbed Camp Snoopy. This equipment is officially known as War Reserve Materiel (WRM) and provides support to bare base systems, medical, munitions, fuels mobility support equipment, vehicles, rations, aerospace ground equipment, air base operability equipment and associated spares and other consumables at designated locations.

Kuwait sponsors four US military bases - Camp Doha, Camp Arifjan, Ali al-Salem Air Base and Ahmad al-Jaber Air Base - and is also the headquarters for CENTCOM's army component.

The port of Manama in Bahrain is headquarters for the US Navy's 5th Fleet and hosts the headquarters of CENTCOM's navy and marine corps leaders. The Naval Support Activity occupies 79 acres of land in the center of downtown Manama. Also in Bahrain is Sheik Isa Air Base.

In Saudi Arabia the main US Air Force control center for air operations was moved from Prince Sultan Air Base to Qatar prior to the start of the war. It is unclear if another base, the Eskan Village Air Base, home for air force and other military people deployed to Riyadh Air Base, is available for US use.

Oman allows the use of three bases by the US military; the Masirah Air Base, the Thumrait Naval Air Base for anti-submarine patrol planes, and the US Air Force use of Seeb International Airport, which is Oman's largest airport.

According to the Washington-DC based group Global Security, the transfer of Seeb International Airport to private sector management signaled the end of the airport's role as a base for the Royal Air Force of Oman. As of early-2002, Oman's Air Force was in search of new facilities, and contractors were bidding for the contract to build one of the first of these air bases at al-Masanah (Masana), northwest of Muscat. Completion of the project, which was first proposed a decade ago, was expected within 18 months of a contract award. Oman has worked with the US Air Force to ensure the base is built to American standards and can be used by American warplanes without further upgrades. Oman has long been a strong supporter of a US military presence in the Gulf. It signed an access agreement with Washington in 1981.

And in Iraq there are four bases to which the US plans access: Baghdad International Airport, an airport at Tallil near Nasiriya in the south; the Bashur airfield in the northern Kurdish area, and a small airstrip in the western desert called H-1. The Baghdad airport is an army base, Talil and Bashur are air force bases and the H-1 airstrip was a foothold for special forces for rapid conquest. Use of the Bashur airfield means that the US will not have to rely on using Turkey's Incirlik air base

Some dozen bases in Central Asia have also been made available to US forces since the war against Afghanistan. In Georgia, the Vaziani base will be the home for special forces instructors for a current mandate of two years, until May 2004.

Turkmenistan has given permission for flyover and refueling of US military planes. This would be particularly important in allowing US aircraft based in Uzbekistan to reach Iran with munitions and special forces troops.

According to Global Security, in November 2001 Tajikistan agreed to allow the US to evaluate three former Soviet airbases for potential use by US aircraft to support Operation Enduring Freedom. The agreement was announced after a meeting in Dushanbe between US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov. The agreement followed an inspection of several airports in southern Tajikistan.

In Uzbekistan, 1,500 to 1,800 special forces troops can be stationed at a former Soviet base in Khanabad. During the war against Afghanistan about 1,000 US troops worked at the facility handling tons of supplies for the war.

In Kazakhstan, US military activities are shrouded in secrecy. But it is known that the government there allows military overflights, refueling and landing rights in emergencies.

In Kyrgystan the base at Manas Airport near Bishek will eventually accommodate 3,000 troops and an unspecified number of aircraft. Manas has a 13,800-foot runway, built for Soviet bombers. There is room for four C-17 or C-5 cargo planes to park along the taxiway. The facility covers 37 acres.

And in Afghanistan there are five airfields that could be used by US forces; at Bagram, Kandahar, Khost, Lwara, Mazar-e-Sharif and Pul-i-Kandahar.

Also, sites outside the region are being considered as staging bases in order to deploy forces into the region. Consider that on June 3 Associated Press reported that US troops may soon use Balkans bases for training sites and staging points for possible interventions in the Middle East as the Pentagon weighs withdrawing 15,000 soldiers from Germany. Reportedly, the Pentagon wants to use big Romanian and Bulgarian training grounds in year-round programs that would have up to 3,000 battle-ready US soldiers at any time.

In Romania, the Americans are interested in the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, the Babadag training range and the Black Sea military port of Mangalia. In Bulgaria, talks are focusing on the use of the Sarafovo and Graf Ignatievo military airports and the Koren and Novo Selo training areas.

(Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
Jun 10, 2003

America's military 'imperial perimeter'
(May 17, '03)

Shifting sands, not shifting realignment
(May 15, '03)

US and India: A dangerous alliance
(May 9, '03)

Farewell to US arms in Saudi Arabia
(May 2, '03)

Scramble for Central Asian bases
(Apr 9, '03)


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