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Are We Really 'Withdrawing' from Bush's Wars? Quietly, US Constructs Even More Bases in the Mideast

The news is focused on a future U.S. withdrawal from Iraq -- but the withdrawal isn't to send the military presence home -- it's into bases across the Persian Gulf.

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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 Café. You know the café 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 mailed home."

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 other expenditures.

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.

 
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