Bush & Co. like to assure everyone that U.S. and coalition forces will remain in Iraq as long as it takes to stabilize the country, but not a moment longer. Democrats, particularly after Iraq's elections in January, like to talk about exit strategies and try to pin down the Bush administration on a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. To that end, on May 1, 2005, Iraq's national security adviser predicted that U.S. troops would being withdrawing from Iraq in mid-2006.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the U.S. will not be leaving Iraq in 2006. In fact, the U.S. never had any intention of ever leaving Iraq. Or Afghanistan, for that matter.
On April 11, 2005, the Congressional Research Service, the independent research arm of Congress, issued a memorandum entitled "Military Construction in Support of Afghanistan and Iraq." In the memorandum, the CRS analyzes the funding received or requested for projects supporting U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The memo notes that in the 2005 Supplemental submitted to Congress by the Bush administration, $1.0 billion was requested for military construction projects in both regions.
The memorandum reveals that the majority of the construction projects in both Afghanistan and Iraq, including their surrounding regions, consisted of base improvement. Based upon its review of the construction projects, the CRS concludes, in part, that such "substantial U.S. investment to improve facilities" indicates that "U.S. troops are likely to remain in-country for some time."
For example, the Bush administration requested over $142 million for the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. Approximately 27 miles north of Kabul, Bagram is home to over 7,000 U.S. and multinational military personnel and is the busiest airfield in Afghanistan. Over $16 million is intended for construction of permanent concrete barracks, as well as over $6 million for a permanent Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Joint Operations Center. Another $55 million would go toward building a permanent "fuel tank farm" and distribution system. Additionally, $32 million is meant to replace diesel generators with a permanent 23-Megawatt gas turbine electric plant. According to the Defense Department, the diesel generators have to go because they create too much pollution. Must be part of Bush's Clear Skies initiative.
As an additional example, the Bush administration requested $24.6 million for Camp Taji in Iraq. Located approximately 15 miles northwest of Baghdad, Camp Taji already boasts the largest PX in Iraq with 29,000 square feet of retail space. Camp Taji already has Subway, Burger King, and Pizza Hut restaurants, as well as several gyms. All of the requested funds would go toward replacing the current climate-controlled trailers with permanent concrete barracks.
An additional $57 million was requested for various improvements to and expansions of Balad Airbase, which already occupies over 30 square miles in northern Iraq. Adjacent to Balad is Camp Anaconda, which occupies an additional 15 square miles and was slated to receive $39 million. Combined, Balad and Anaconda are home to more than 25,000 U.S. troops and civilian support personnel.
In support of its operations and presence in Afghanistan, the Bush administration requested $30 million for Camp Lemonier in Djibouti and another $42 million for Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan. Regarding Iraq, the Bush administration requested over $67 million for Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates.
Granted, concrete barracks are safer than tents or trailers and soldiers deployed overseas and in harm's way for as long as a year ought not have to live in utter austerity. Be that as it may, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that by building permanent military facilities, the U.S. envisions a permanent presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is not difficult to understand why the U.S. wants a permanent presence in both countries. In its April 13, 2005 report, "Iraq Oil: Reserves, Production, and Potential Revenues," the Congressional Research Service notes that Iraq has the world's second-largest oil "endowment" with 155 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves. The CRS, citing studies by the Department of Energy, estimates that the cost of bringing Iraq's oil production on line is among the world's lowest, suggesting "that Iraq offers one of the world's best long-term petroleum prospects, with substantial output potentially flowing from relatively few, high-yield wells." By way of comparison, U.S. wells produce only 10 barrels a day, while Iraqi wells can average several thousand per day.
As for Afghanistan, while it has some modest energy reserves of its own, it is the heart of what has come to be known as "Pipelineistan." Afghanistan is strategically located between the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, as well as between Turkmenistan and the burgeoning markets of the Indian subcontinent, China and Japan. As such, it is valuable in the development of the energy resources in and around the Caspian Sea.
As noted by the Congressional Research Service in its March 4, 2005 report, "Caspian Oil and Gas: Production and Prospects," the Caspian Sea region is estimated to have crude oil reserves of approximately 200 billion barrels. This would make the Caspian Sea region's reserves equal to approximately 75 percent of Saudi Arabia's, or roughly 15 percent of the total world reserves. Furthermore, there are approximately 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in the region.
However, since most of the countries in the Caspian region were once part of the Soviet Union, nearly all Caspian crude oil and natural gas travels by pipeline through Russia. As the CRS notes, this fact, along with Russia's own oil and gas reserves, gives Russia significant market power over Caspian energy, negatively affecting profits and leaves the U.S. out in the cold. "Caspian region countries [and the U.S.] thus have incentives to develop alternatives to routes through Russia."
Enter Afghanistan. Pipelines from the Caspian Sea could run through Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea and onward to the lucrative markets of China, India, and Japan. Indeed, until 1998, the Clinton administration and Unocal negotiated with the Taliban in support of a trans-Afghan pipeline. The thinking was then, as it is now, that a pro-U.S. government in Afghanistan would guarantee the security of any such pipeline. Certainly, the puppet regime of Hamid Karzai fits the bill. In fact, last March, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan agreed to accelerate work on a pipeline to carry natural gas to India. Construction is scheduled to begin in December.
Moreover, this past January, the U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan, Tracey Anne Jacobson, announced that the U.S. is "seriously looking at the project, and it is quite possible that American companies will join in it." Ambassador Jacobson noted a deep U.S. interest in the progress of the trans-Afghan pipeline and hinted at the future participation of U.S. firms in the project.
Further emphasizing the importance of the trans-Afghan pipeline to the U.S. is its staunch opposition to a similar but shorter pipeline through Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made that opposition clear during her visit to Pakistan in March. If the pipeline runs through Iran, the U.S. would be cut out of the profits waiting beneath the Caspian Sea.
Just as it did in Japan and Germany after World War Two, in South Korea after the Korean War, and in Kosovo following the Balkans conflict, the U.S. will remain in both Iraq and Afghanistan once (or if) hostilities come to an end. Both countries will simply join the ranks of America's hundreds of military outposts worldwide and bring the U.S. two steps closer to total global military dominance.
Ken Sanders is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. Visit his weblog at: www.politicsofdissent.blogspot.com/.
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