The U.S. army is lastly withdrawing (or not) from its base at al-Tanf. You understand, the place that the Syrian authorities lengthy claimed was a coaching floor for Islamic State (ISIS) fighters; the land hall simply inside Syria, close to each the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, that Russia has referred to as a terrorist hotbed (whereas floating the concept of collectively administering it with the United States); the location of a camp the place a whole lot of U.S. Marines joined Particular Operations forces final yr; an outpost that U.S. officers claimed was the key not solely to defeating ISIS, but in addition, in response to Basic Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. forces in the Center East, to countering “the malign activities that Iran and their various proxies and surrogates would like to pursue.” You recognize, that al-Tanf.
Inside hours of President Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, gear at that base was already being inventoried for removing. And identical to that, arguably the most necessary American garrison in Syria was (perhaps) being struck from the Pentagon’s books — except, because it occurs, al-Tanf was by no means truly on the Pentagon’s books. Opened in 2015 and, till just lately, house to a whole lot of U.S. troops, it was certainly one of the many army bases that exist someplace between mild and shadow, an acknowledged overseas outpost that by some means by no means truly made it onto the Pentagon’s official stock of bases.
Formally, the Division of Protection (DoD) maintains four,775 “sites,” unfold throughout all 50 states, eight U.S. territories, and 45 overseas nations. A complete of 514 of those outposts are situated abroad, in accordance with the Pentagon’s worldwide property portfolio. Simply to start out down an extended listing, these embrace bases on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, in addition to in Peru and Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. However the most up-to-date model of that portfolio, issued in early 2018 and referred to as the Base Construction Report (BSR), doesn’t embrace any point out of al-Tanf. Or, for that matter, another base in Syria. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Niger. Or Tunisia. Or Cameroon. Or Somalia. Or any variety of locales the place such army outposts are recognized to exist and even, in contrast to in Syria, to be increasing.
In response to David Vine, writer of “Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World,” there could possibly be a whole lot of comparable off-the-books bases round the world. “The missing sites are a reflection of the lack of transparency involved in the system of what I still estimate to be around 800 U.S. bases outside the 50 states and Washington, D.C., that have been encircling the globe since World War II,” says Vine, who can also be a founding member of the just lately established Abroad Base Realignment and Closure Coalition, a gaggle of army analysts from throughout the ideological spectrum who advocate shrinking the U.S. army’s international “footprint.”
Such off-the-books bases are off the books for a cause. The Pentagon doesn’t need to speak about them. “I spoke to the press officer who is responsible for the Base Structure Report and she has nothing to add and no one available to discuss further at this time,” Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Baldanza informed TomDispatch when requested about the Protection Division’s many thriller bases.
“Undocumented bases are immune to oversight by the public and often even Congress,” Vine explains. “Bases are a physical manifestation of U.S. foreign and military policy, so off-the-books bases mean the military and executive branch are deciding such policy without public debate, frequently spending hundreds of millions or billions of dollars and potentially getting the U.S. involved in wars and conflicts about which most of the country knows nothing.”
The place are they?
The Abroad Base Realignment and Closure Coalition notes that the United States possesses as much as 95% of the world’s overseas army bases, whereas nations like France, Russia, and the United Kingdom have maybe 10-20 overseas outposts every. China has only one.
The Division of Protection even boasts that its “locations” embrace 164 nations. Put one other means, it has a army presence of some type in roughly 84% of the nations on this planet — or no less than the DoD briefly claimed this. After TomDispatch inquired about the quantity on a brand new webpage designed to inform the Pentagon’s “story” to the common public, it was shortly modified. “We appreciate your diligence in getting to the bottom of this,” stated Lieutenant Colonel Baldanza. “Thanks to your observations, we have updated defense.gov to say ‘more than 160.’”
What the Pentagon nonetheless doesn’t say is the way it defines a “location.” The quantity 164 does roughly monitor with the Division of Protection’s present manpower statistics, which present personnel deployments of various sizes in 166 “overseas” locales — together with some nations with token numbers of U.S. army personnel and others, like Iraq and Syria, the place the measurement of the drive was clearly far bigger, even when unlisted at the time of the evaluation. (The Pentagon just lately claimed that there have been 5,200 troops in Iraq and a minimum of 2,000 troops in Syria though that quantity ought to now markedly shrink.) The Protection Division’s “overseas” tally, nevertheless, additionally lists troops in U.S. territories like American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wake Island. Dozens of troopers, based on the Pentagon, are additionally deployed to the nation of “Akrotiri” (which is definitely a village on the island of Santorini in Greece) and hundreds extra are based mostly in “unknown” places.
In the newest report, the variety of these “unknown” troops exceeds 44,000.
The annual value of deploying U.S. army personnel abroad, in addition to sustaining and operating these overseas bases, tops out at an estimated $150 billion yearly, in accordance with the Abroad Bases Realignment and Closure Coalition. The worth tag for the outposts alone provides as much as about one-third of that complete. “U.S. bases abroad cost upwards of $50 billion per year to build and maintain, which is money that could be used to address pressing needs at home in education, health care, housing, and infrastructure,” Vine factors out.
Maybe you gained’t be stunned to study that the Pentagon can also be considerably fuzzy about simply the place its troops are stationed. The brand new Protection Division web site, for example, provided a rely of “4,800+ defense sites” round the world. After TomDispatch inquired about this complete and the way it associated to the official rely of four,775 websites listed in the BSR, the web site was modified to learn “approximately 4,800 Defense Sites.”
“Thank you for pointing out the discrepancy. As we transition to the new site, we are working on updating information,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Baldanza. “Please refer to the Base Structure Report which has the latest numbers.”
In the most literal sense, the Base Construction Report does certainly have the newest numbers — however their accuracy is one other matter. “The number of bases listed in the BSR has long born little relation to the actual number of U.S. bases outside the United States,” says Vine. “Many, many well-known and secretive bases have long been left off the list.”
One prime instance is the constellation of outposts that the U.S. has constructed throughout Africa. The official BSR stock lists solely a handful of web sites there — on Ascension Island in addition to in Djibouti, Egypt, and Kenya. In actuality, although, there are various extra outposts in many extra African nations.
A current investigation by the Intercept, based mostly on paperwork obtained from U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) by way of the Freedom of Info Act, revealed a community of 34 bases closely clustered in the north and west of that continent in addition to in the Horn of Africa. AFRICOM’s “strategic posture” consists of bigger “enduring” outposts, together with two ahead working websites (FOSes), 12 cooperative safety places (CSLs), and 20 extra austere websites often known as contingency places (CLs).
The Pentagon’s official stock does embrace the two FOSes: Ascension Island and the crown jewel of Washington’s African bases, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, which expanded from 88 acres in the early 2000s to just about 600 acres at this time. The Base Construction Report is, nevertheless, lacking a CSL in that very same nation, Chabelley Airfield, a lower-profile outpost situated about 10 kilometers away that has served as a drone hub for operations in Africa and the Center East.
The official Pentagon tally additionally mentions a website that goes by the complicated moniker of “NSA Bahrain-Kenya.” AFRICOM had beforehand described it as a set of warehouses constructed in the 1980s at the airport and seaport of Mombasa, Kenya, however it now seems on that command’s 2018 record as a CSL. Lacking, nevertheless, is one other Kenyan base, Camp Simba, talked about in a 2013 inner Pentagon research of secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. A minimum of two manned surveillance plane have been based mostly there at the time. Simba, a longtime Navy-run facility, is at present operated by the Air Pressure’s 475th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron, a part of the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing.
Personnel from that very same air wing may be discovered at yet one more outpost that doesn’t seem in the Base Construction Report, this one on the reverse aspect of the continent. The BSR states that it doesn’t listing particular info on “non-U.S. locations” not at the least 10 acres in measurement or value at the very least $10 million. Nevertheless, the base in query — Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger — already has a $100 million development price ticket, a sum quickly to be eclipsed by the value of working the facility: about $30 million a yr. By 2024, when the current 10-year settlement to be used of the base ends, its development and working prices could have reached about $280 million.
Additionally lacking from the BSR are outposts in close by Cameroon, together with a longtime base in Douala, a drone airfield in the distant city of Garoua, and a facility often known as Salak. That website, in response to a 2017 investigation by theIntercept, the analysis agency Forensic Structure, and Amnesty Worldwide, has been utilized by U.S. personnel and personal contractors for drone surveillance and coaching missions and by allied Cameroonian forces for unlawful imprisonment and torture.
Based on Vine, preserving America’s African bases secret is advantageous to Washington. It protects allies on that continent from potential home opposition to the presence of American troops, he factors out, whereas serving to to make sure that there will probably be no home debate in the U.S. over such spending and the army commitments concerned. “It’s important for U.S. citizens to know where their troops are based in Africa and elsewhere around the world,” he advised TomDispatch, “because that troop presence costs the U.S. billions of dollars every year and because the U.S. is involved, or potentially involved, in wars and conflicts that could spiral out of control.”
These lacking bases
Africa is hardly the solely place the place the Pentagon’s official listing doesn’t match up properly with actuality. For near 20 years, the Base Construction Report has ignored bases of all types in America’s lively conflict zones. At the peak of the American occupation of Iraq, as an example, the United States had 505 bases there, starting from small outposts to mega-sized amenities. None appeared on the Pentagon’s official rolls.
In Afghanistan, the numbers have been even greater. As TomDispatch reported in 2012, the U.S.-led Worldwide Safety Help Drive (ISAF) had about 550 bases in that nation. In the event you had added ISAF checkpoints — small baselets used to safe roads and villages — to the rely of mega-bases, ahead working bases, fight outposts, and patrol bases, the quantity reached an astounding 750. And counting all overseas army installations of each sort — together with logistical, administrative, and help amenities — hiked ISAF Joint Command’s official rely to 1,500 websites. America’s vital share of them was, nevertheless, additionally mysteriously absent from the Protection Division’s official tally.
There at the moment are far fewer such amenities in Afghanistan — and the numbers might drop additional in the months forward as troop ranges lower. However the existence of Camp Morehead, Ahead Working Base Fenty, Tarin Kowt Airfield, Camp Dahlke West, and Bost Airfield, in addition to Camp Shorab, a small set up occupying what was as soon as the website of a lot bigger twin bases referred to as Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion, is indeniable. But none of them has ever appeared in the Base Construction Report.
Equally, whereas there are not 500-plus U.S. bases in Iraq, in current years, as American troops returned to that nation, some garrisons have both been reconstituted or constructed from scratch. These embrace the Besmaya Vary Complicated, Firebase Sakheem, Firebase Um Jorais, and Al Asad Air Base, in addition to Qayyarah Airfield West — a base 40 miles south of Mosul that’s higher referred to as “Q-West.” Once more, you gained’t discover any of them listed in the Pentagon’s official rely.
Lately, it’s even troublesome to acquire correct manpower numbers for the army personnel in America’s struggle zones, not to mention the variety of bases in every of them. As Vine explains, “The military keeps the figures secret to some extent to hide the base presence from its adversaries. Because it is probably not hard to spot these bases in places like Syria and Iraq, however, the secrecy is mostly to prevent domestic debate about the money, danger, and death involved, as well as to avoid diplomatic tensions and international inquiries.”
If stifling home debate by way of info management is the Pentagon’s goal, it’s been doing a effective job for years of deflecting questions on its international posture, or what the late TomDispatch common Chalmers Johnson referred to as America’s “empire of bases.”
In mid-October, TomDispatch requested Heather Babb, one other Pentagon spokesperson, for particulars about the outposts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria that have been absent from the Base Construction Report, in addition to about these lacking African bases. Amongst the different questions put to Babb: Might the Pentagon supply a easy rely — if not an inventory — of all its outposts? Did it have a real rely of abroad amenities, even when it hadn’t been launched to the public — an inventory, that’s, which truly did what the Base Construction Report solely purports to do? October and November handed with out solutions.
In December, in response to follow-up requests for info, Babb responded in a style firmly in line with the Pentagon’s well-worn coverage of protecting American taxpayers in the darkish about the bases they pay for — regardless of the theoretical problem of denying the existence of outposts that stretch from Agadez in Niger to Mosul in Iraq. “I have nothing to add,” she defined, “to the information and criteria that is included in the report.”
President Trump’s determination to withdraw American troops from Syria signifies that the 2019 Base Construction Report will doubtless be the most correct in years. For the first time since 2015, the Pentagon’s stock of outposts will not be lacking the al-Tanf garrison (or then once more, perhaps it’s going to). However that also probably leaves a whole lot of off-the-books bases absent from the official rolls. Think about it one outpost down and who is aware of what number of to go.
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