New U.S. basing plan eliminates need for permanent presence

Monday, January 12, 2004

WASHINGTON The United States plans to discuss a revising of basing rights with Middle East allies.

Officials said the Bush administration has launched talks with such allies as Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Tunisia, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey for basing rights. They said the Defense Department and State Department seek to promote a new concept of basing that will not mean a permanent military presence in any Middle East state.

The United States also seeks to establish military bases in Iraq. On Sunday, the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet reported that Washington wants to establish seven military bases as part of an effort to contain neighboring Iran and Syria, Middle East Newsline reported. U.S. officials have not confirmed the report.

A key goal of the administration is to establish basing rights in Algeria and Morocco. Officials said the issue has been raised in meetings by Secretary of State Colin Powell as well as a range of U.S. military leaders during their tour of North African states over the last year. They said Libya's agreement to dismantle weapons of mass destruction and reconcile with Washington could facilitate the U.S. effort to establish bases in neighboring Arab countries.

Another plan is for U.S. European Command to expand its presence in Turkey. Officials said Turkey's Incerlik air base has been used for the air transport of supplies for U.S. troops in Iraq. The U.S. Air Force also wants to use the Konya air base in central Turkey for NATO-related training exercises.

Incerlik, the officials said, would contribute to the rotation of U.S. forces in Iraq. About 100,000 troops located in Iraq and Kuwait are expected to be replaced starting later this month.

"It's strategically important to us, and militarily, I think it will be a great benefit for us to link up with our military," Gen. Robert Foglesong, the senior U.S. Air Force commander in Europe, said.

Under the new Pentagon concept, the United States would not require a major or permanent military presence in Middle East allies. Officials said this would eliminate the need for large U.S. bases, and instead stress the option for pre-positioning of equipment overseen by a small American maintenance and logistics staff. Another option would be for basing military assets aboard U.S. naval vessels at sea.

"The goal here is to provide flexibility to contend with the uncertainty we think characterizes this environment," Andrew Hoehn, deputy assistant defense secretary for strategy, said. "We also need to reassess the types, locations, numbers and capabilities of our military forces worldwide."

Hoehn told the Fletcher Conference in December 2003 that the physical change of the global military posture is inherent in military transformation. He said transformation would require a new military arrangement with allies that would allow them to benefit from U.S. pre-positioning of platforms.

The new U.S. concept of basing rights would take into account U.S. regional and global needs and the best means to engage in rapid deployment, officials said. This would require joint command and control in areas that can quickly absorb and direct U.S. troops and platforms.

"The goal is to reduce friction with those nations, the kind that results from accidents and other problems relating to local sensitivities," Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith said. "Removal of the U.S. Air Expeditionary Wing from Prince Sultan Air Base for example should help improve our relations with the Saudis."

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