Nov 24, 2009
Despite recent large-scale insurgent suicide bombings that have killed
scores of civilians and the fact that well over 100,000 U.S. troops are
still deployed in that country, coverage of the U.S. war in Iraq has
been largely replaced in the mainstream press by the (previously)
"forgotten war" in Afghanistan. A major reason for this is the plan,
developed at the end of the Bush years and confirmed by President
Obama, to draw down U.S. troops in Iraq to 50,000 by August 2010 and withdraw most of the remaining forces by December 2011.
Getting out of Iraq, however, doesn't mean getting out of the Middle
East. For one thing, it's likely that a sizeable contingent of U.S.
forces will remain garrisoned on several large and remotely situated
U.S. bases in Iraq well past December 2011. Still others will be
stationed close by -- on bases throughout the region where, with little
since the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, construction to
harden, expand, and upgrade U.S. and allied facilities has gone on to
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee early this
year, General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command
(CENTCOM), stated: "The Arabian Peninsula commands significant U.S.
attention and focus because of its importance to our interests and the
potential for insecurity." He continued:
"[T]he countries of the Arabian Peninsula are key
partners... CENTCOM ground, air, maritime, and special operations
forces participate in numerous operations and training events,
bilateral and multilateral, with our partners from the Peninsula. We
help develop indigenous capabilities for counter terrorism; border,
maritime, and critical infrastructure security; and deterring Iranian
aggression. As a part of all this, our FMS [Foreign Military Sales] and
FMF [Foreign Military Financing] programs are helping to improve the
capabilities and interoperability of our partners' forces. We are also
working toward an integrated air and missile defense network for the
Gulf. All of these cooperative efforts are facilitated by the critical
base and port facilities that Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE [United
Arab Emirates], and others provide for US forces."
In fact, since 2001 the Pentagon has been pouring significant sums
of money into the "critical base and port facilities" mentioned by the
general -- both U.S. sites and those of its key regional partners.
These are often ignored facts-on-the-ground, which signal just how
enduring the U.S. military presence in the region is likely to be, no
matter what happens in Iraq. Press coverage of this long-term
infrastructural build-up has been remarkably minimal, given the
implications for future conflicts in the oil heartlands of the planet.
After all, Washington is sending tremendous amounts of military
materiel into autocratic Middle Eastern nations and building-up bases
in countries whose governments, due to domestic public opinion, often prefer that no publicity be given to the growing American military "footprint."
Given that the current conflict with al-Qaeda stemmed, in no small
part, from the U.S. military presence in the region, the issue is
obviously of importance. Nonetheless, coverage has been so poor that
much about U.S. military efforts there remains unknown. A review of
U.S. government documents, financial data, and other open-source
material by TomDispatch, however, reveals that an American military
building boom yet to be seriously scrutinized, analyzed, or assessed is
underway in the Middle East.
Consider, then, what we can at present know now about this Pentagon
build-up, country by country from Qatar to Jordan, and while you're
reading, think about what we don't know -- and why Washington has
chosen this path.
Qatar: The Pentagon's Persian Gulf Pentagon
In 1996, although it had no air force of its own, the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar built Al Udeid Air Base
at a cost of more than $1 billion. The goal: attracting the U.S.
military. In September 2001, U.S. aircraft began to operate out of the
facility. By 2002, tanks, armored vehicles, dozens of warehouses,
communications and computing equipment, and thousands of troops were
based at and around Al Udeid. In 2005, the Qatari government spent almost $400 million to build a cutting-edge regional air operations center.
Today, Qatar is all but indispensable to the U.S. military. Just
recently, for example, Central Command redeployed 750 personnel from
its Tampa, Florida headquarters to its new forward headquarters at Al
Udeid to test its "staff's ability to seamlessly transition command and
control of operations... in the event of a crisis in the CENTCOM area of
responsibility or a natural disaster in Florida."
has not, however, picked up the whole tab for the expanding U.S.
military infrastructure in the country. The Pentagon has also been
investing large amounts of money in upgrading facilities there for the
last decade. From 2001-2009, the U.S. Army, for example, awarded $209
million in contracts for construction in the energy-rich emirate. In
August, Rizzani de Eccher, an Italian engineering and construction
giant, signed a $44 million deal with the Pentagon to replace an
unspecified facility at Al Udeid. In September, the Department of
Defense (DoD) awarded Florida-based IAP Worldwide Services a $6 million
contract for "construction of a pre-engineered warehouse building...
warehouse bay and related site work and utilities" at the base.
Later in the month, American International Contractors,
a global construction firm that specializes in "US-funded Middle East
and African infrastructure projects," inked a deal for nearly $10
million to build a Special Operations Forces Training Range, complete
with "a two-story shooting house, an indoor range, breach and storage
facilities[,] a test fire bunker and bunker road" in Qatar. Just days
after that, the Pentagon awarded a $52 million contract to
Cosmopolitan-EMTA JV to upgrade the capacity of Al Udeid's airfield by
building additional aircraft parking ramps and fuel storage facilities.
Bahrain Base's and Kuwait's Subways
In nearby Bahrain -- a tiny kingdom of 750,000 people -- the U.S. stations
up to 3,000 personnel, in addition to regular visits by the crews of
Navy ships that spend time there. Between 2001-2009, the Navy awarded
$203 million in construction contracts for military projects in the
country. One big winner over that span has been the engineering and
construction firm Contrack International.
It received more than $50 million in U.S. government funds for such
projects as building two "multi-story facilities for the U.S. Navy"
complete with state-of-the-art communication interfaces and exterior
In September 2009, the company was awarded a new $27 million deal
"for the design/bid/build construction of the waterfront development
program, US Naval Support Activity, Bahrain." This facility will join
the Navy's undisputed crown jewel
in Bahrain -- a 188,000 square-foot mega-facility known as "the Freedom
Souq" that houses a PX or Navy Exchange (NEX). The NEX, in turn, offers
"an ice cream shop, bicycle shop, cell phone shop, tailor shop, barber
and beauty shops, self-serve laundry, dry cleaning service, rug Souq,
nutrition shop, video rental, and a 24/7 mini-mart," while selling
everything from cosmetics and cameras to beer and wine.
Work is also going on in nearby Oman where, in the 1930s, the
British Royal Air Force utilized an airfield on Masirah Island for its
ventures in the Middle East. Today, the U.S. Air Force and members of
other service branches do much the same, operating out of the island's
Camp Justice. From 2001-2009, the Army and Air Force each spent about
$13 million on construction projects in the sultanate. Contractor
Cosmopolitan-EMTA JV is now set to begin work there, too, after
recently signing a $5 million contract with the Pentagon for an
"Expeditionary Tent Beddown" (presumably an area meant to accommodate a
potential future influx of forces). Meanwhile, in the neighboring
United Arab Emirates, the U.S. Army alone spent $46 million between
2001-2009 on construction projects.
In 1991, the U.S. military helped to push Saddam Hussein's army out
of Kuwait. After that, however, 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, about 30 miles south
of the plush palace sits another pricey complex. Camp Arifjan grew exponentially as the Iraq War ramped up, gaining notoriety along the way as the epicenter of a massive graft and corruption scandal. Today, the base houses about 15,000 U.S. troops and features such fast-food favorites as Pizza Hut, Hardees, Subway, and Burger King.
Another facility in Kuwait that has become a major stopover point on
the road to and from Baghdad is Camp Buehring. Located north of Kuwait
City, near the town of Udairi, the installation is chock-a-block full
of amenities, including three PXs, telephone centers, two internet
cafes, Morale, Welfare and Recreation centers, a movie theater, chapel,
gym, volley-ball court, basketball court, concert stage, gift shop,
barber shop, jewelry store, and a number of popular eateries including
Burger King, Subway, Baskin Robbins, and Starbucks.
Writing about the base recently, Captain Charles Barrett of the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team remarked,
"There's a USO with computers and a Cafe. You know the cafe is good
because it has that little mark over the letter 'e.' Soldiers are
gaming on XBOX, Play Station and Wii. There are phone banks and board
games and a place where parents can read to their kids and have the DVD
The price tag for living the big-box-base lifestyle in Kuwait has,
however, been steep. From 2003 to 2009, the U.S. Army spent in excess
of $502 million on contracts for construction projects in the small,
oil-rich nation, while the Air Force added almost $55 million and the
Navy another $7 million. Total military spending there has been more
massive still. Over the same span, according to U.S. government data,
the Pentagon has spent nearly $20 billion in Kuwait, buying huge
quantities of Kuwaiti oil and purchasing logistical support from
various contractors for its facilities there (and elsewhere), among
In 2006, for example, the international construction firm Archirodon
was awarded $10 million to upgrade airfield lighting at Al-Salem and
Al-Jaber, two Kuwaiti air bases
used by American forces. Recently, there has also been a major scaling
up of work at Camp Arifjan. In September, for example, the Pentagon
awarded CH2M Hill Contractors
a nearly $26 million deal to build a new communications facility on the
base. Just days later, defense contractor ITT received an almost $87
million contract for maintenance and support services there.
Saudi Base Building and Jordan's U.S. Army Training Complex
According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, "From
1950 through 2006, Saudi Arabia purchased and received from the United
States weapons, military equipment, and related services through
Foreign Military Sales (FMS) worth over $62.7 billion and foreign
military construction services (FMCS) worth over $17.1 billion."
Between 1946 and 2007, the Saudis also benefited from almost $295
million in foreign assistance funding from the U.S. military.
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
Saudi Arabia. The American presence in the kingdom -- the location of
some of the holiest sites in Islam -- was a major factor in touching
off al-Qaeda's current war with the United States. In 2003, in response to fundamentalist pressure on the Saudi government, the U.S. military announced it was pulling
all but a small number of trainers out of the country. Yet while many
U.S. troops have left, Pentagon contracts haven't -- a significant
portion of them for construction projects for the Saudi Arabian
military, which the U.S. trains and advises from sites like Eskan
Village, a compound 20 kilometers south of Riyadh, where 800 U.S.
personnel (500 of them advisors) are based.
2003-2009, the U.S. Army awarded $559 million in contracts for Saudi
construction projects. In 2009, for example, it gave a $160 million
deal to construction firm Saudi Oger Limited for the construction of facilities for a Saudi mechanized brigade based at Al Hasa, a $127 million contract to Saudi Lebanese Modern Construction Co. to erect structures for the Prince Turki Bin Abdul Aziz Battalion, and an $82 million agreement to top Saudi construction firm Al-Latifia Trading and Contracting Company to build ammunition storage bunkers, possibly at the Saudi Arabian National Guard's Khashm Al An Training Area.
Additionally, military weaponry
has continued to flow into Saudi Arabia by way of the Pentagon and so,
too, have contracts to provide support services for that materiel. For
example, earlier this year, under a U.S. Air Force contract extension,
Cubic Corporation was awarded
a $9.5 million deal "to continue to operate and maintain the air combat
training system used to support F-15 fighter pilot training for the
Royal Saudi Air Force."
Like the Saudis, Jordan's leader, King Abdullah II, has long had a complex relationship with the U.S. shaped
by domestic concerns over U.S. military action in the region and
support for Israel. As with Saudi Arabia, none of that has stopped the
U.S. military from forging ever closer ties with the kingdom.
Recently, after testing and evaluating various training systems at
multiple U.S. Army bases, the Jordanian Armed Forces selected Cubic's
combat training center system and under the auspices of the U.S. Army,
the company was "awarded an $18 million contract to supply mobile
combat training center instrumentation and training services to the
Kingdom of Jordan."
The Pentagon has also invested in Jordanian military infrastructure.
Between 2001-2009, the Army awarded $86 million in contracts for
Jordanian construction projects. One major beneficiary was again
Archirodon which, between 2006-2008, worked on the construction of the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC) -- a state-of-the-art military and counter-terrorism training facility
owned and operated by the Jordanian government but built, in part,
under a $70 million U.S. Army contract. In 2009, Archirodon was awarded
two additional contracts for $729,000 and $400,000, by the Air Force,
for unspecified work in Jordan.
When that 1,235-acre $200 million Jordanian training center was
unveiled earlier this year, King Abdullah II himself gave the inaugural
"of his vision for KASOTC as a world-class special forces training
center." Not surprisingly, General Petraeus was also on hand to give a
speech in which he lauded Jordan as "a key partner... [which] has
placed itself at the forefront of police and military training for
regional security forces."
Garrisoning the Gulf
Even as it lurches toward a quasi-withdrawal from Iraq, the U.S.
military has been hunkering down and hardening its presence elsewhere
in the Middle East with little fanfare or press coverage. There has
been almost no discussion in this country of a host of possible
repercussions that might come from this, ranging from local opposition
to the U.S. military's presence to the arming of undemocratic and
repressive regimes in the region. With the sole exception of Iran, the
U.S. military has fully garrisoned the nations of the Persian Gulf with
air bases, naval bases, desert posts, training centers, and a whole
host of other facilities, while also building up the military capacity
of nearby Jordan.
The CIA efforts to topple Iran's government in the 1950s,
Washington's support for Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the 1980s, the
Pentagon's troop presence in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s -- all were
considered canny geopolitical moves in their time; all had unforeseen
and devastating consequences. The money the Pentagon has recently been
pouring into the nations of the Persian Gulf to bulk up base
infrastructure has only tied the U.S. ever more tightly to the region's
autocratic, often unpopular regimes, while further arming and
militarizing an area traditionally considered unstable. The Pentagon's
Persian Gulf base build-up has already cost Americans billions in tax
dollars. What the costs in "blowback" will be remains the unknown part
of the equation.
© 2023 TomDispatch.com
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