May 23, 2013
The Secret Building Boom of the Obama Years
Posted on Nov 15, 2012
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch
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. Of them, some have been stripped clean by Iraqis, others became ghost towns, and one—Camp Bucca—a hotel. What remains open today are State Department facilities, most notably the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that the Department of State was planning to spend up to $115 million to upgrade the massive embassy compound, which it characterized as already the “biggest and most expensive in the world.”
State Department documents issued last month and examined by TomDispatch offer a snapshot of the civilian “bases” currently being maintained in Iraq. The Baghdad embassy site in the “international zone” consists of two compounds, Camp Condor and the Chancery Compound, as well as the embassy heliport. With two dining halls, two gyms, two firehouses, a large post office, a PX, and contractor housing, the site presently hosts about 3,600 personnel.
Another 1,250 persons are currently deployed to the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center near Baghdad International Airport. This location boasts a hospital, large dining hall, fire station, post office, contractor housing, and a medical waste incineration facility. In Basrah, in the south of the country, the U.S. maintains two sites: Consulate General Basrah and Basrah Air Ops. The dual facility boasts an airfield, a hospital, a fully-equipped recreation center with a gym and a pastry shop, a large laundry facility, a sizeable dining hall, a warehouse and other storage areas, and contractor housing. There is even shuttle bus service. About 1,000 people are located at the site.
Close to 1,000 more personnel are also stationed at the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center and Erbil Air Ops in the north of the country. In addition to an airfield, the site also boasts contractor housing, a main dining hall, a sandwich shop and snack bar, laundry facilities, warehouses, fuel storage tanks, and a fire station. According to CENTCOM, personnel from the U.S. Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq—military advisors working with that country’s armed forces—also operate out of Umm Qasar Naval Base in the south of the country, the Taji National Logistics Depot just north of Baghdad, and the nearby Besmaya Combined Training Center.
What, Me Pivot?
During the Obama years, the Corps of Engineers’ Middle East District has also awarded contracts for work in Pakistan ($1.1 million), Jordan ($4.7 million), Saudi Arabia ($5.3 million), the United Arab Emirates ($6.6 million), Kuwait ($33.7 million) and Kyrgyzstan ($58.2 million). In addition, it anticipates awarding at least another $5.9 million in construction contracts in Kuwait in 2013, while contracting documents indicate that the Air Force plans to install two 20,000-gallon water storage tanks at that country’s Ali Al Salem Air Base in the near future. The Corps reported no anticipated contracts in the United Arab Emirates for 2013, but documents examined by TomDispatch suggest that the Army is currently planning to build new armory facilities at that country’s Al Minhad Base.
When asked why funding is on the rise for work in Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain—total expenditures between 2011 and 2012 rose from $2.4 million to $91 million, $41.7 million to $203.4 million, and zero to $232.4 million, respectively—CENTCOM played down its significance. This massive jump in construction dollars, the command’s spokesman Oscar Seára claimed, represented nothing more than past funding requests winding their way through the Pentagon’s bureaucracy. “It doesn’t signal a pivot or strategic shift.”
The former Central Asian Soviet “socialist republics” of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan (“partly free,” “not free,” and “not free,” respectively, according to Freedom House) are prime sites for new construction as well. Ten contracts were awarded as fiscal 2012 ended for projects there. Carried out under the auspices of CENTCOM and USACE, they include a string of border checkpoints, customs facilities, and training complexes, in addition to multiple canine training centers and “drug control” offices, for those countries’ security forces. “Everything that we’re doing there is aimed at helping these countries monitor their borders and helping keep the flow of anything illegal from going in or out of their countries,” says Kibler.
While the flow of construction money into Central Asia may look like part of the Obama administration’s announced “pivot to Asia,” a “rebalancing” of Pentagon resources eastward, CENTCOM dismisses the notion. “What you are seeing is the natural progression of assisting with border-security development where the funding has finally caught up to previous proposals and requests for support,” Seára told TomDispatch. “It takes time for funding to flow, and what you’re seeing is indicative of nothing beyond that.”
Pivot or not, the Obama administration shows little sign of slowing its Middle Eastern building boom, despite the recent rhetoric about a similar pivot from military interventions abroad to nation-building at home. For the last four years, even while drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has pumped more than a billion dollars into entrenching and expanding its presence in the Greater Middle East.
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