US and UK forces establish 'enduring bases' in Iraq
Despite talk of withdrawal 'when the job is done', there are
signs that coalition troops will be there for the long term
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
-- -- The Pentagon has revealed that
coalition forces are spending millions of dollars establishing
at least six "enduring" bases in Iraq - raising the prospect
that US and UK forces could be involved in a long-term
deployment in the country. It said it assumed British troops
would operate one of the bases.
Almost ever since President Bush claimed an end to "major combat
operations" in Iraq on 1 May 2003, debate has focused on how
quickly troops could be withdrawn. The US and British
governments say troops will remain in Iraq "until the job is
done". Yet while the withdrawal of a substantial number of
troops remains an aim, it has become increasingly clear that the
Pentagon and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are preparing to
retain some forces in Iraq for the longer term. The US currently
has around 130,000 troops in Iraq; Britain has 8,000.
Major Joseph Breasseale, a senior spokesman for the coalition
forces' headquarters in Iraq, told The Independent on Sunday:
"The current plan is to reduce the coalition footprint into six
consolidation bases - four of which are US. As we move in that
direction, some other bases will have to grow to facilitate the
closure [or] transfer of smaller bases."
He added: "Right now, I don't have any information that tells me
which nationality will comprise the remaining two bases, though
my assumption is that at least one will be run by the Brits." An
MoD spokesperson said British forces were currently operating
out of eight bases in southern Iraq, with a small contingent
based in Baghdad, and that "discussions with coalition forces
relating to future basing are still at a very early stage.
Nothing has been agreed."
The official added: "We have no intention of remaining, or
indeed retaining bases in Iraq long-term. We will leave Iraq as
soon as the democratically elected Iraqi government is confident
that its security forces have the capability and capacity to
counter terrorism and to preserve the security of democracy
A senior military source recently told the IoS that some British
troops could be expected to stay in Iraq in a training role for
years to come. There would be no British presence in the urban
areas, however. The American and British governments say they
remain in Iraq at the invitation of the interim Iraqi
government, and would leave if asked to do so.
The Pentagon says it has already reduced the number of US bases
from 110 a year ago to a current total of around 75. But at the
same time it is expanding a number of vast, highly defended
bases, some in the desert away from large population areas. More
than $280m (£160m) has already been spent on building up Al Asad
air base, Balad air base, Camp Taji and Tallil air base, and the
Bush administration has this year requested another $175m to
enlarge them. These bases, which currently house more than
55,000 troops, have their own bus routes, pizza restaurants and
Adam Price, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and a persistent
critic of the Iraq war, said it would be "very, very worrying"
if British troops were to be involved in a long-term deployment.
"Certainly the mood music has all been about the withdrawal of
troops," he said. "Now we are just starting to see the glimmers
of what may be the real policy."
Some analysts believe the desire to establish a long-term US
military presence in Iraq was always one of the reasons behind
the 2003 invasion. Joseph Gerson, a historian of American
military bases, said: "The Bush administration's intention is to
have a long-term military presence in the region ... For a
number of years the US has sought to use a number of means to
make sure it dominates in the Middle East ... The Bush
administration sees Iraq as an unsinkable aircraft carrier for
its troops and bases for years to come."
Zoltan Grossman, a geographer at Evergreen State College in
Washington, said: "After every US military intervention since
1990 the Pentagon has left behind clusters of new bases in areas
where it never before had a foothold. The new string of bases
stretch from Kosovo and adjacent Balkan states, to Iraq and
other Persian Gulf states, into Afghanistan and other central
Asian states ... The only two obstacles to a geographically
contiguous US sphere of influence are Iran and Syria."
The US and UK repeatedly say the timetable is dependent upon
success in training Iraqi forces. Progress in this area has been
slow; in February the Pentagon admitted the only Iraqi battalion
judged capable of fighting without US support had been
downgraded, requiring it to fight with American troops.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited