The unprecedented expansion of American military presence throughout the world in the last decade, in support of and consolidated by attacks and invasions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya, has been marked by the Pentagon securing new bases in several continents and Oceania.
In the past ten years the U.S. has gained access to and expanded and upgraded dozens of bases abroad, in most every case in nations that had been off-limits to it during the Cold War and even the last decade of the 20th century.
These include multi-service (Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy) main operating, forward deployed and pre-positioning bases, storage and logistics facilities, base camps, air and naval installations, a global strategic airlift operation, interceptor missile and related radar bases, unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) launch pads, satellite surveillance sites, permanent training programs and centers, new regional task forces and even a new overseas military command: U.S. Africa Command, which takes in 54 nations, almost 30 percent of the member states of the United Nations.
Individually and in conjunction with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the U.S. has deployed or will soon do so armed forces to new locations ranging from “lily pads” to strategic air bases from the Baltic Sea to South America, Southeastern Europe to Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa to Central and South Asia, the Indian Ocean to the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus to Central Europe, the South Pacific to the Black Sea.
The countries affected (as of last count, proceeding through the alphabet) include:
With the activation of the Northern Distribution Network to supply the nearly ten-year war in Afghanistan, all but two of fifteen former Soviet Republics – Moldova and Ukraine – have been incorporated into troop and equipment transit routes for the world’s longest armed conflict: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In January the Russian government announced that U.S. and NATO flights over the country in support of the Afghan war had reached “up to 4,500 flights in one direction in a year.” The next month Voice of Russia, citing Foreign Ministry figures, revealed that 15,000 U.S. military personnel and over 20,000 tons of cargo had crossed Russian territory en route to Afghanistan since October of 2009.
In recent years the U.S. has led military exercises on a regular (at least annual) basis, frequently with NATO and Asian NATO allies, in Bulgaria, Romania, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Cambodia and throughout the African continent (with Flintlock, Africa Endeavor, Natural Fire and Africa Partnership Station operations).
Most of the bases where American military personnel and assets have been and are being stationed are preexisting facilities – seven in Colombia, four each in Bulgaria and Romania, scores in Afghanistan and Iraq – but many are new: a missile shield-linked Forward-Based X-Band Radar installation deployed in Israel’s Negev Desert (with a range of 2,900 miles) in 2008 staffed by some 100 U.S. service members; a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile battery moved to Morag, Poland two years later with a comparable amount of military personnel assigned; a Reaper drone operation in Seychelles begun in the intervening year; a transit center in Kyrgyzstan through which an estimated 50,000 U.S. and other NATO troops pass each month to and from the Afghan war front, and so on. Washington will soon rotate F-16 squadrons to Poland and later in the decade will station Standard Missile-3 anti-ballistic interceptors in Poland and Romania with complementary radar sites being examined in nations like Bulgaria, Turkey, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
The recently acquired bases, though hardly of the dimensions of those constructed after the Second World War and the Korean War, or for that matter of the almost 1,000-acre Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, are sufficient for the needs of 21st century American warfare, shifting as it has to long-range bombing and helicopter gunship attacks, cruise and drone missile strikes, and special forces operations.
The ever-expanding range of U.S. military activities reached a new point last month when the Pentagon dispatched a C-5 Galaxy transport plane on a direct, non-stop flight from the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware across Canada and over the North Pole, then over Russia and Kazakhstan into the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
The Heavy Airlift Wing established by the U.S. and eleven NATO allies and partners in 2009 at the Pápa Air Base in Hungary, the world’s first multinational strategic airlift operation, by this February had “flown more than 3,600 flight hours and delivered more than 13,800 tons of cargo and more than 6,100 passengers for the nations over six continents including missions to Haiti, Afghanistan, South Africa and Europe,” according to U.S. Air Forces In Europe.
The same source also announced early this year that the 65th Air Base Wing moved 15,000 aircraft with 22,000 personnel from 21 nations through the Lajes Field in Portugal’s Azores in 2010 for wars and other deployments in the east.
Air bases acquired in nations like Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Iraq and Romania have been upgraded not only for long-distance military transport but as potential strategic bases analogous in scope and purpose to those developed after World War II in Britain, Germany, Italy and Turkey.
In the second half of the last century the U.S. could boast of military supremacy in – control over – the entire Western Hemisphere, Western and Southern Europe, and most of the Pacific Ocean.
In the new century, with a World War Two-level $729 billion military budget this year and a head of state who boasts of being the commander-in-chief of “the world’s sole military superpower,” its reach spans almost the entire globe.