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Nick Turse: The Pentagon's Bases of Confusion

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

 

One of the jokes of our era is the Republican Party's claim that it favors "small government."  An accurate description might go more like this: the present-day Republican Party (libertarians excepted) has never seen an oppressive power of the national security state it didn't want to bolster or grow.  And it loves big government -- the bigger the better -- as long as we're talking about the military-industrial complex.  Mitt Romney, for instance, is eager to build ever more naval vessels, increase the size of U.S. ground forces, and up by an extra $2 trillion or more over the next decade the Pentagon's already staggering budget.  As the Bush administration proved and the Obama administration emphasized, stimulus packages, including massive infrastructural projects, are fine and dandy when pursued in Baghdad (biggest embassy on Earth) or Afghanistan (most bases ever).  Consider it an irony, that even undocumented aliens are a Republican "go," if they happen to be part of the semi-slave labor force that helps to build and service American bases in war zones abroad. 

And lest anyone claim that we're now a can't-do nation with a can't-do government, it's simply not true.  Increasingly true, however, is that governmental "doing" only happens these days when the U.S. military is doing it.  This is, of course, the definition of a militarizing society.  And yet, let's face it, the Pentagon's ability to create infrastructure remains impressive -- and something Americans know remarkably little about.

Take today's piece by TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse: to build untold hundreds of bases, some humongous, in a poverty-stricken, landlocked country (with few building resources of its own) thousands of miles from ours is little short of stunning.  In fact, thought of a certain way, the whole American way of war has the same quality.  Take the largest base built in Iraq, the ill-named Camp Victory with a 27-mile perimeter.  Housing 40,000 military personnel and 20,000 contractors, it had, among the usual brand-name fast-food restaurants, Internet cafes, and PXes, "a reverse osmosis water plant that could generate 1.85 million gallons a day, an ice plant, a 50-megawatt power generating station, stadium-sized chow halls, and a laundromat with 3,000 machines able to do 36,000 loads a day."

Since any style of warfare emerges from the society that spawns it, we shouldn't be surprised that we carry our particular version of a consumer society to war with us.  Think, for instance, of the final withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, when the U.S. military shipped out much of what we had brought in with us.  That turned out to be an estimated three million objects, ranging from tanks and laptop computers to toilets and tables (with at least another four million objects turned over to the Iraqis, "including 89,000 air conditioners worth $18.5 million"). 

Now, as if to remind us of the profligate nature of the American way of war, comes the news that to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the U.S. military may have to send in extra troops to sort through the more than $60 billion worth of equipment and materiel that needs to leave with them.  Think of it not as an urge but a surge to depart, and a part of the general madness of war, American-style, in these last years.  Those extra troops will, by the way, be sending out at least 200,000 shipping containers and vehicles.

Big government?  It couldn't get bigger.  Can-do, you bet.  Successful?  Not for a second.  Maybe the next time Washington wants to build the biggest embassy on Earth and hundreds of bases, large and small, it should do so here and create a few of the fantasy 12 million jobs Mitt Romney is promising Americans.  Tom 

Afghanistan's Base Bonanza
Total Tops Iraq at That War's Height
By Nick Turse

Afghanistan may turn out to be one of the great misbegotten "stimulus packages" of the modern era, a construction boom in the middle of nowhere with materials largely shipped in at enormous expense to no lasting purpose whatsoever.  With the U.S. military officially drawing down its troops there, the Pentagon is now evidently reversing the process and embarking on a major deconstruction program.  It's tearing up tarmacs, shutting down outposts, and packing up some of its smaller facilities.  Next year, the number of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) coalition bases in the southwest of the country alone is scheduled to plummet from 214 to 70, according to the New York Times.

But anyone who wanted to know just what the Pentagon built in Afghanistan and what it is now tearing down won't have an easy time of it.

At the height of the American occupation of Iraq, the United States had 505 bases there, ranging from small outposts to mega-sized air bases.  Press estimates at the time, however, always put the number at about 300. Only as U.S. troops prepared to leave the country was the actual -- startlingly large -- total reported.  Today, as the U.S. prepares for a long drawdown from Afghanistan, the true number of U.S. and coalition bases in that country is similarly murky, with official sources offering conflicting and imprecise figures.  Still, the available numbers for what the Pentagon built since 2001 are nothing short of staggering.

Despite years of talk about American withdrawal, there has in fact been a long-term building boom during which the number of bases steadily expanded.  In early 2010, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) claimed that it had nearly 400 Afghan bases.  Early this year, that number had grown to 450.  Today, a military spokesperson tells TomDispatch, the total tops out at around 550. 

And that may only be the tip of the iceberg.

When you add in ISAF checkpoints -- those small baselets used to secure roads and villages -- to the already bloated number of mega-bases, forward operating bases, combat outposts, and patrol bases, the number jumps to 750.  Count all foreign military installations of every type, including logistical, administrative, and support facilities, and the official count offered by ISAF Joint Command reaches a whopping 1,500 sites.  Differing methods of counting probably explain at least some of this phenomenal rise over the course of this year.  Still, the new figures suggest one conclusion that should startle: no matter how you tally them, Afghan bases garrisoned by U.S.-led forces far exceed the 505 American bases in Iraq at the height of that war.

Bases of Confusion

There is much confusion surrounding the number of ISAF bases in Afghanistan.  Recently, the Associated Press reported that as of October 2011, according to spokesman Lieutenant Colonel David Olson, NATO was operating as many as 800 bases in Afghanistan, but has since closed 202 of them and transferred another 282 to Afghan control.  As a result, the AP claims that NATO is now operating only about 400 bases, not the 550 to 1,500 bases reported to me by ISAF.     

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more...)
 

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Remember, Tom, that the surge into Afghanistan hap... by Vernon Huffman on Tuesday, Sep 4, 2012 at 10:47:41 AM