May 26, 2013
The Secret Building Boom of the Obama Years
Posted on Nov 15, 2012
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch
Increasing the Power of Airpower in Qatar
The tiny oil-rich emirate of Qatar has been the preeminent site of the Pentagon’s Middle Eastern building boom in the Obama years. A significant percentage of its population is made up of migrant workers who, according to Human Rights Watch, are “vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,” while “forced labor and human trafficking remain serious problems.” The country even received a failing grade (“not free”) from the U.S. State Department-funded human rights organization Freedom House. Still, between 2009 and 2012, the U.S. pumped nearly $400 million into Pentagon projects in the country, including troop barracks, munitions storage areas, a communications center, a training range, an aircraft operations center, an aircraft maintenance hangar, an aviation maintenance shop, a warehouse facility, and a vehicle maintenance shop, according to a list provided by the Corps of Engineers.
The Obama administration has continued a build-up in the country that accelerated after 9/11. In September 2001, U.S. aircraft began to operate out of Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base. By 2002, the U.S. had tanks, armored vehicles, dozens of warehouses, communications and computing equipment, and thousands of troops at and around the base. The next year, the U.S. moved its major regional combat air operations center out of Saudi Arabia and into Al Udeid. Since then, it has served as a major command and logistics hub for U.S. regional operations, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to figures provided to TomDispatch by USACE, at least 10 contracts for construction at Al Udeid, worth nearly $87 million, are anticipated in 2013. A review of official U.S. government documents reveals a host of upcoming projects there, including a fuels laboratory, a cryogenics facility, a new center for the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, an air defense maintenance facility, more parking space for fuel trucks, new roadways, and a precision measurement equipment laboratory where technicians will calibrate the sophisticated gear used in vehicle and weapons maintenance.
Despite a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 2011, which continues to this day, the oil-rich kingdom of Bahrain (also “not free” according to Freedom House) is a top U.S. ally. In fact, over the last year, the Corps of Engineers awarded contracts for construction in the country worth more than $232 million, the most for any nation in any year of the Obama presidency so far. Since 2009, Bahrain has seen almost $326 million in USACE contract awards.
In 2010, the U.S. 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. Total price tag: $580 million.
In September, USACE awarded a $15 million contract for the expansion of a wastewater treatment plant and the construction of a climate-controlled warehouse, as well as an irrigation pump building, among other facilities at Mina Salman. That same month, the Corps of Engineers also awarded a $42 million contract for a multistory “bachelor enlisted quarters” in the capital, Manama. It will contain at least 241 two-bedroom apartments for Navy personnel, as well as administrative offices, laundry facilities, multipurpose rooms, and lounges.
Taking Flight in Oman
In February and March of 2011, protests demanding political reform in Oman led to assaults on and the killing of protesters by the nation’s security forces. Despite marked restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, this sultanate (also ranked “not free” by Freedom House) has been a favorite site of military expansion in the Obama years. Between 2009 and 2012, the Corps of Engineers awarded $144 million in contracts for work there, more than half this year.
During the 1930s, the British Royal Air Force operated an airfield on Oman’s Masirah Island. Today, the U.S. uses Masirah and USACE is carrying out construction there as well as at the country’s Thumrait and Al Musannah Air Bases.
The Un-Withdrawal from Iraq
The Corps’s contract data do not include figures for construction in Iraq prior to August 2011. In the 15 months since, according to information provided by USACE, it has awarded $113 million in contracts for State Department nation-building-style projects like a wastewater treatment plant in the city of Fallujah and a courthouse in Rusafa.
The Iraqi government is paying USACE to carry out these projects in order to increase its defense capabilities, according to the Middle East District’s Joan Kibler. These include a counterterrorism center, consisting of a headquarters facility, barracks, a warehouse, and a power plant in eastern Baghdad; a military training complex at Al Harthiya; a military security school in Taji; and administrative, security, and dining facilities at Hawk and Tikrit Air Bases.
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