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US bases in Iraq: a costly legacy

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United States taxpayers have spent an inflation-adjusted $1 trillion to keep military bases in South Korea since the war ended there in 1953. Those bases remain in place, though they are shrinking.

Some military analysts wonder if 20 or so years from now the US will still have costly "enduring" bases in Iraq. ("Permanent" is a term the Pentagon generally avoids in referring to the hundreds of bases it has around the globe.)

Alternatively, should the US decide to leave Iraq - perhaps because a full-fledged civil war puts American armed forces in a too-perilous position - the personnel and their equipment could be flown out quickly. "They could come home in a month," calculates John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.com, a website specializing in military affairs.

Maybe three months, figures Gordon Adams, head of Security Policy Studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Hiring Ukraine's huge Antonov cargo planes might speed the process.

So far, though, it seems clear that the Pentagon would prefer to keep its bases in Iraq. It has already spent $1 billion or more on them, outfitting some with underground bunkers and other characteristics of long-term bases. The $67.6 billion emergency bill to cover Iraq and Afghanistan military costs includes $348 million for further base construction.

That supplemental appropriation was passed last month by the House and will soon come before the Senate.

With the midterm congressional elections eight months away, there is a widespread assumption the Pentagon will withdraw goodly numbers of US troops from Iraq before then. But no top American or British authority has ruled out keeping permanent bases in Iraq.

"At the moment, there are no plans for long-term bases in the country," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a marine during a question-and-answer session last December. But he also said the US might discuss basing American troops in Iraq with a new Iraqi government.

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