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From The Suez To The Pacific


Today, almost six months after the attacks on New York and Washington, the US is putting in place a network of forward bases stretching from the Middle East across the entire length of Asia, from the Red Sea to the Pacific.

US forces are active in the biggest array of countries since the second world war. Troops, sailors and airmen are now established in countries where they have never before had a presence. The aim is to provide platforms from which to launch attacks on any group perceived by George Bush to be a danger to the US.

Footage released by the Pentagon this week of US combat soldiers in the field in eastern Afghanistan graphically illustrated the extent to which the US has totally overcome its decade-long horror of putting troops on the ground.

Forward bases are rapidly multiplying. Washington announced at the weekend the establishment of yet another base in Central Asia, a region where before September 11 there was no US presence. The new base will be at Manas in Kyrgystan.

Until recently, US troops in that country would have been unthinkable, both as a former part of the Soviet Union and also close to the Chinese border. The base will have 3,000 personnel – troops, communications specialists and technical support – and combat aircraft.

According to defence analysts, the intention is to have a host of such forward bases – manned by a few thousand troops and technicians all year round – that can provide support for huge reinforcements as required. These bases are being built in or near any country that Mr Bush decides constitutes “a clear and present danger”.

Tim Garden, an associate fellow of the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, said yesterday: “Everyone was expecting, when the Bush administration came in, that it would see America draw into itself and concentrate on long-range capability and reducing its presence on the ground.

“Instead, they are looking at forward basing in lots of areas that may be of use to them for operations in the future.”

The long and growing list of bases underlines the extent to which the US has shifted from the “Black Hawk Down” era, when the ugly scenes that accompanied the killing of US soldiers in Somalia in 1993 so scarred the American psyche that the then president, Bill Clinton, vowed never again to commit ground troops abroad if there was any chance of them sustaining casualties.

In support of US forces fighting in Afghanistan, the US has established bases, each manned by 3,000 troops, in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. US troops are also stationed in Pakistan, close both to the Afghan and Iranian borders.

The US administration says publicly that it will leave the Central Asian bases after the “war on terrorism” is over but privately officials admit they are there to stay.

As well as bases, the US is sending in military advisers to a host of countries. In another move into the former Soviet empire, the US announced in the last week that it is to send to Georgia up to 200 advisers plus Huey helicopters to help battle elements of al-Qaida as well as Chechen rebels.

The US, in its hunt for al-Qaida fighters, has been patrolling the waters that encompass Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Within the last week, Saana, the Yemeni news agency, disclosed that the US is to send 100 military advisers to Yemen to help its republican guard take on tribal leaders alleged to be sympathetic to Osama bin Laden.

US special forces are be lieved to be in the Sudan working with opposition groups from Somalia, gathering information about possible al-Qaida supporters in Somalia.

In the Philippines, 660 US soldiers are helping to train and equip 3,800 Filipino soldiers in the fight against Islamist rebels, the Abu Sayyaf group, in the mountainous island of Basilan.

Ivo Daadler, an international affairs specialist at the Brookings Institute in Washington, disputed that Mr Bush had ever been isolationist. He said Mr Bush was opposed only to the kind of humanitarian interventionism of the Clinton administration in places such as the Balkans, Haiti and Somalia, but not to intervention in what Mr Bush regarded as America’s interest.

Like the cold war, he predicted the war will last for years, if not decades, and will be “all-consuming”.

There will be further bases if Mr Bush resorts to force to implement the policy decision to remove the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. The build-up of US forces in the Middle East will dwarf the 50,000 US servicemen at present operating between the Red Sea and the Philippines.

Saudi Arabia, already keen to see the US pull out of its existing bases in the kingdom, is unlikely to allow the US to launch an attack on Iraq from its territory. Instead, the US will have to look elsewhere, to Kuwait and Turkey.

The bases

Afghanistan Combat role

Pakistan Bases

Uzbekistan Base

Tajikistan Base

Kyrgystan Base

Georgia Military advisers and base

Philippines Military advisers

Red Sea Naval patrols

Yemen Military advisers

Sudan Military advisers in preparation for action in Somalia

Saudi Arabia Base

Kuwait US will need to beef up presence if action is taken against Iraq

Turkey US will need big bases in the country if action is taken against Iraq

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