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US bases in Iraq: sticky politics, hard math

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If a new Iraq government should agree to let American forces stay on, how many bases will the US request?

One, as the United States Army currently maintains in Honduras? Six, the number of installations it lists in the Netherlands. Or maybe 12?

The Pentagon isn't saying.

But a dozen is the number of so-called "enduring bases" located by John Pike, director of GlobalSecurities.org. His military affairs website gives their names. They include, for example, Camp Victory at the Baghdad airfield and Camp Renegade in Kirkuk. The Chicago Tribune last March said US engineers are constructing 14 "enduring bases," but Mr. Pike hasn't located two of them.

Note the terminology "enduring" bases. That's Pentagon-speak for long-term encampments - not necessarily permanent, but not just a tent on a wood platform either. It all suggests a planned indefinite stay on Iraqi soil that will cost US taxpayers for years to come.

The actual amount depends on how many troops are stationed there for the long term. If the US decides to reduce its forces there from the 138,000 now to, say, 50,000, and station them in bases, the costs would run between $5 billion to $7 billion a year, estimates Gordon Adams, director of Security Policy Studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. That's two to three times as much as the annual American subsidy to Israel. Providing protection for Israel is one of several reasons some analysts cite for the US invasion of Iraq.

If more troops are based in Iraq for the long haul, the cost would be higher. US Army planners are preparing to maintain the current level of forces in Iraq at least through 2007, The New York Times reported this week. But no decision has been made at the political level.

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