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 countryís Islamic Revolutionary
Guards Corps aren't behind this building boom, nor are the Syrians, Lebanon's
Hezbollah, or some set of al-Qaeda affiliates. It's the US 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
On August 31, US President Barack Obama took to the airwaves
to announce "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 US Air Force) to the fact that there are more
American troops in that country today than were projected to be there in
September 2003, many signs point in another direction.
In fact, within days of the presidentís announcement it was reported that the
US military was pouring money into improving bases in Iraq and that advance
elements of a combat-hardened armored cavalry regiment were being sent there in
what was politely dubbed an "advise and assist" (rather than combat) role. On
September 13, the New York Times described the type of operations that US
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-16ís dropped 500-pound bombs.
to the report, US troops were within range of enemy hand grenades and one
American soldier was wounded in the battle.
Adhering to an agreement inked during George W Bushís final year in office, the
Obama administration has pledged to withdraw all US troops from Iraq by the end
of 2011. US military commanders have, however, repeatedly spoken of the
possibility of extending the US militaryís stay well into the future.
Just recently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates let the Iraqi government know
that the US 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 Guardianís
Martin Chulov wrote last month, "[T]he US 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 US basing plans into turmoil. Notably
unnerving for the Obama administration was a deal reportedly brokered by Iran
in which Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - whose forces had repeatedly clashed
with US troops only a few short years ago - threw his support behind Prime
Minister Nuri 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 US 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 US 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
US taxpayers who continue to fund Americaís "empire of bases". As has been true
in recent years, the latest US military documents indicate that base expansion
and upgrades are the order of the day for Americaís little-mentioned garrisons
in the nations around Iraq.
One thing is, by now, clear: whatever transpires in Iraq, the US military
presence in the Persian Gulf and surrounding environs will be formidable well
into the future.
Middle Eastern mega-bases
As the "last" US combat troops withdrew from Iraq under the glare 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 US 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
Today, the US militaryís 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 US 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
In addition to Camp Arifjan, US 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 US militaryís work is
also supported by a Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) distribution center in
Kuwait, located not on a US base but in the Mina Abdulla industrial zone about
46 kilometers south of Kuwait City.
Unlike other DLA hubs, which supply US garrisons around the world, the Kuwaiti
facility is contractor owned and operated. Made 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 US military also operates and utilizes bases and other facilities in the
nearby Persian Gulf nations of Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and
During the 1930s, the British Royal Air Force operated an airfield on Omanís
Masirah Island. Today, the US 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 Dyncorp, in Seeb, Thumrait, and Salalah Port.
From 2001 to 2010, the US 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 Omanís air field at
Thumrait Air Base.
US efforts in Bahrain are on a grander scale. This year, the US Navy broke
ground on a mega-construction 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 US military. It succeeded. In September
2001, US aircraft began to operate out of the facility. By 2002, the US had
tanks, armored vehicles, dozens of warehouses, communications and computing
equipment, and thousands of troops at and around Al Udeid.
In 2003, the US moved its major regional combat air operations center out of
Saudi Arabia and into neighboring Qatar where the government was ready to spend
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 US 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:
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 administrationís FY2011 military construction request
for Qatar is $64.3 million.
Jordanís 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 US
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
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 Pentagonís Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.
Just last month, the US 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 didnít were the longstanding, ongoing US 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 wrote:
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 US and bin Ladenís rag-tag guerrilla force, al-Qaeda ("the
Base"), have been locked in a struggle that has led to further massive US base
expansions in the greater Middle East and South Asia. At the height of its
occupation, the US had hundreds of bases throughout Iraq. Today, hundreds more
have been built in Afghanistan where, in the 1980s, bin Laden and other
jihadists, backed and financed by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Saudis
and the Pakistanis, fought to expel the Soviet occupiers of that country.
As early as 2005, the US military was floating the possibility of retaining
some of its Afghan bases permanently. In Iraq, plans for similar permanent
garrisons have recently been thrown into doubt by the very government the US
helped install in power. Whatever happens in either war zone, however, one
thing is clear: the US military will still be deeply dug into the Middle East.
While American infrastructure crumbles at home, new construction continues in
oil-rich kingdoms, sultanates, and emirates there, courtesy of the Pentagon.
Itís 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
Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. An award-winning
journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and
regularly at TomDispatch. His latest book, The 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 Universityís Radcliffe Institute. You can follow
him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr,
and on Facebook. His website