The List: The Six Most Important U.S. Military Bases
The U.S. military is cleaning house. Existing bases are being retooled or eliminated, and new ones are popping up in some unexpected places. FP looks at the overseas bases that are now vital to the U.S. military—and the new ones that will change its global footprint for years to come.
(U.S. Department of Defense)
Andersen Air Force Base Apra Harbor, Guam
The base: Andersen can handle aircraft ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles to long-range strategic bombers, and Apra Harbor can service everything from nuclear submarines to aircraft carriers. The naval base is also home to one of the three Maritime Prepositioning Squadrons worldwide, which provides mobile, long-term storage of land-combat equipment and supplies near potential trouble spots.
Its importance: Located in the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 miles from Asia, Guam is close enough to the mainland to be vital in any conceivable conflict yet distant enough to preclude a surprise blow from an adversary. Andersen is one of the few locations with the necessary hanger facilities to protect the B-2s sensitive, radar-evading skin, and strategic bombers regularly cycle through the base to project power toward mainland Asia. The best part: unlike other large bases in the region, Guam is U.S. territory.
Balad Air Base/Camp Anaconda, Iraq
The base: Most prominent of the enduring bases being constructed in Iraq, Balad is located just north of Baghdad. It is one of the busiest airfields in the country, accommodating both Air Force fighters as well as transport aircraft. Camp Anaconda, adjacent to the air base, serves as a main base and logistics center for U.S. troops serving throughout central Iraq.
Its importance: Balads facilities and location make it more than just an ideal base from which to fight insurgents in Iraq. It is also perfectly positioned to project U.S. power throughout the Middle East, and it will likely do so for many years to come. Although this convenience might serve wider U.S. interests, it doesnt sit too well with Balads Iraqi neighborsU.S. soldiers have nicknamed Camp Anaconda Mortaritaville after a common greeting they receive.
(U.S. Air Force)
Bezmer Air Base, Bulgaria
The base: Bezmer reflects a broader trend toward lighter, more austere bases in Eastern Europe and away from the larger military complexes in Western and Central Europe. To keep a low profile in the host countries, the Pentagon is reluctant to even refer to Bezmer and its Eastern European equivalents as bases, and it stresses that the host countries retain full control of their facilities.
Its importance: Compared to U.S. bases in old Europe, Bezmer and its Eastern European equivalents are cheaper to operate and closer to potential hot spots in the Middle East and Central Asia. In times of conflict, the military will use these facilities to surge men and materiel toward the front lines. The hope is that former-Soviet bloc host countries will be more amenable to U.S. bases than other hosts in old Europe and be less likely to block their use in a time of conflict.
(U.S. Navy) Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory
The base: Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia served as a base for B-52s during the 1991 and 2003 wars with Iraq and during post-9/11 operations in Afghanistan. Its isolated anchorage is also home to both Army and Marine seaborne prepositioning squadrons for land-combat equipment and supplies.
Its importance: Isolationand British sovereigntymake Diego Garcia a far more secure base for U.S. forces than any mainland base in Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia. Specialized shelters to protect the sensitive stealth equipment of visiting B-2s have recently been installed, and strategic bombers regularly rotate through the base. The atoll is also an important part of the U.S. Space Surveillance Network of telescopes, radars, and listening stations.
Guantnamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba
The base: Originally intended as coaling station for the U.S. Navy, Guantnamo Bay (or Gitmo) remains an important logistical base for Navy units operating in the Caribbean. It also serves as a hub for counter-drug and migrant interdiction operations.
Its importance: Gitmos greatest strategic asset is its hazy legal statusit is U.S.-controlled, but it is not U.S. territory. Although its not the only place through which enemy combatants (neither POWs nor convicted criminals) could be processed, it is readily accessible from the U.S. mainland, and its staff and facilities have experience in detention operations from their time as host to Haitian and Cuban refugees. As a result, Gitmo is one of the most well-known and reviled U.S. bases worldwide. The Bush administration has repeatedly rejected high-profile calls to shut down the base.
(U.S. Department of Defense)
(U.S. Air Force) Manas Air Base, Kirgizstan
The base: Manas was established at Bishkeks international airport in the months following 9/11 as a hub for multinational operations in Afghanistan. It has since grown into a substantial base in the heart of Central Asia, playing host to combat aircraft, their supporting personnel, and associated facilities.
Its importance: In addition to its proximity to Afghanistan, Manas is located near the immense energy reserves of the Caspian Basin, as well as the Russian and Chinese frontiers. Kirgizstan has not threatened to follow Uzbekistans example and expel U.S. forces, which suggests that Manas could become a linchpin of the enduring U.S. presence in Central Asia. Recognizing its value, Kirgizstan is talking about raising the rent from $2 million to $207 million per year.