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Operation Enduring Occupation March 18, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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(Roger’s note: you read it here first: the US government, regardless of what the golden tongued mendacious president tells us, HAS NO INTENTION OF LEAVING IRAQ for the foreseeable future.  In the Orwellian world we inhabit today, where war is peace, where failure is too big to fail, where we don’t escalate but “surge,” and where torture doesn’t hurt that much; we can add that WITHDRAWAL MEANS STAYING.) 

[‘On March 4, 2010, as a guest on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show,” Thomas Ricks, who was the military correspondent for the Washington Post, referring to President Obama’s promises to withdraw from Iraq, said, “I would say you shouldn’t believe [it] because I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think we’re going to have several thousand, several tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq on the day President Obama leaves office.”‘]

Thursday 18 March 2010

by: Dahr Jamail, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

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(Photo: nukeit1)

Plain Speak

The 2008 National Defense Strategy reads:

US interests include protecting the nation and our allies from attack or coercion, promoting international security to reduce conflict and foster economic growth, and securing the global commons and with them access to world markets and resources. To pursue these interests, the US has developed military capabilities and alliances and coalitions, participated in and supported international security and economic institutions, used diplomacy and soft power to shape the behavior of individual states and the international system, and using force when necessary. These tools help inform the strategic framework with which the United States plans for the future, and help us achieve our ends.

It adds:

… Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing or equaling the power of the US. To accomplish this, the US will require bases and stations within and beyond western Europe and Northeast Asia.

In light of such clear objectives, it is highly unlikely that the US government will allow a truly sovereign Iraq, unfettered by US troops either within its borders or monitoring it from abroad, anytime soon.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the Iraqi and US governments indicate an ongoing US presence past both the August 2010 deadline to remove all combat troops, and the 2011 deadline to remove the remaining troops.

According to all variations of the SOFA the US uses to provide a legal mandate for it’s nearly 1,000 bases across the planet, technically, no US base in any foreign country is “permanent.” Thus, the US bases in Japan, South Korea and Germany that have existed for decades are not “permanent.” Technically.

Most analysts agree that the US plans to maintain at least five “enduring” bases in Iraq.

Noted US writer, linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky, said, “Bases [abroad] are the empire. They are the point of projection of power and expansion of power.”

Chalmers Johnson, author and professor emeritus of UC San Diego commented, “In a symbolic sense [bases] are a way of showing that America stands there watching.”

Longtime defense analyst from George Washington University, Gordon Adams, told The Associated Press that in the broader context of reinforcing US presence in the oil-rich Middle East, bases in Iraq are preferable to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. “Carriers don’t have the punch. There’s a huge advantage to land-based infrastructure. At the level of strategy it makes total sense to have Iraq bases.”

According to Professor Zoltan Grossman of The Evergreen State College, who has been researching military bases and participating in the global network against foreign bases for several years, the US has no intention of releasing control of its bases in Iraq. The Pentagon, he believes, has many old tricks to mask a military presence and armed pressure.

In an interview with Truthout he observed:

Since the Gulf War, the US has not just been building the bases to wage wars, but has been waging wars to leave behind the bases. The effect has been to create a new US military sphere of influence wedged in the strategic region between the E.U., Russia and China. The Pentagon has not been building these sprawling, permanent bases just to hand them over to client governments.

Grossman’s prediction for Iraq:

Look for a Visiting Forces Agreement – of the kind negotiated with the Philippines – that allows supposedly ‘visiting’ US forces unrestricted access to its former bases. Similarly, constant joint military exercises can keep US troops continually visible and intimidating to Iraqis. Even after 2011, nothing in the Iraq Status of Forces Agreement prevents US bombers (stationed in Kuwait and elsewhere) from attacking Iraqi targets whenever they want, just as they did between 1991 and 2003. Nothing prevents the type of missile or Special Forces attacks like we’re seeing in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Nothing prevents CIA or contractors from participating in Iraqi missions or intelligence operations.

Adding credence to this, we have Article 6 of the US/Iraqi SOFA discussing “agreed facilities,” Article 27 mentions “mutually agreed … military measures” after 2011 and Article 28 talks of a scenario where Iraq is able to “request” US security in the International Zone (Green Zone.)

Gray Language

Chapter six of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report stated:

In February 2009, President Obama outlined the planned drawdown of US forces in Iraq to 50,000 troops and the change in mission by August 31, 2010. By this time, US forces will have completed the transition from combat and counterinsurgency to a more limited mission set focused on training and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces ($2 billion has already been set aside for this for FY2011); providing force protection for US military and civilian personnel and facilities; and conducting targeted counterterrorism operations and supporting US civilian agencies and international organizations in their capacity-building efforts.

The report further clarifies that US troop drawdowns “will occur in accordance” with the SOFA, but that “the pace of the drawdown takes into consideration Iraq’s improved, yet fragile, security gains” and “provides US commanders sufficient flexibility to assist the Iraqis with emerging challenges.”

On May 15, 2006, Gen. John Abizaid, overseeing US military operations in Iraq at the time, said, “The United States may want to keep a long-term military presence in Iraq to bolster moderates against extremists in the region and protect the flow of oil.”

On March 12, 2010, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, the commander of US troops in Northern Iraq, told reporters during a conference call that it might be necessary to keep combat troops involved in the security mechanism that maintains peace between Iraqi national and Kurdish regional forces beyond the August deadline.

The National Security Strategy for US Missions abroad proposes to “Ignite a new era of global economic growth through free markets and free trade and pressing for open markets, financial stability, and deeper integration of the world economy.” This fits perfectly with the policy outlined by the Quadrennial Defense Review Report, which says there is a stated ability for the US military to fight “multiple overlapping wars” and to “ensure that all major and emerging powers are integrated as constructive actors and stakeholders into the international system.”

Such gray language and loopholes in policy documents have been common since the US invaded Iraq seven years ago. This has not changed with the SOFA.

“The likelihood of the US planning to keep troops in Iraq after December 31, 2011 has to be measured in the context of the history of US violations of other countries’ sovereign territory, airspace, etc.,” Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, explained to Truthout. “At the moment, this is perhaps most obvious in Pakistan – where the US has been routinely attacking alleged Taliban or al Qaeda supporters with both air and [limited] ground troops in Pakistani territory despite the stated opposition of the Pakistani government which is nominally allied to the US.”

“The early public discussions of ‘re-missioning’ combat troops, changing their official assignment from combat to ‘training’ or ‘assistance,’ thus allowing them to remain in Iraq after the August 2010 deadline for all combat troops to be removed from the country, provides the model for how such sleight of language will occur,” Bennis said, adding, “It may or may not be linked to a future ‘need’ for US troops to remain to protect the increasing numbers of US government civilians assigned to Iraq as the official number of troops decreases.”

Bennis explained that the language of the SOFA is grounded in the claim that Iraq is a sovereign nation and that the government of Iraq is choosing freely to partner with the US government. But the reality, according to Bennis, is that the SOFA was negotiated and signed while Iraq was (and continues to be today) a country occupied and controlled by the United States. Its government is and was at the time of the SOFA’s signing dependent on the US for support.

In Article 27 of the SOFA, the text stated, “in the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq that would violate its sovereignty, political independence, or territorial integrity, waters, airspace, its democratic system or its elected institutions, and upon request by the Government of Iraq, the Parties shall immediately initiate strategic deliberations and, as may be mutually agreed, the United States shall take appropriate measures, including diplomatic, economic, or military measures, or any other measure, to deter such a threat.”

While the agreement is ostensibly binding only for three years, Article 30 permits amendments to the SOFA, which could, of course, include extending its timeframe – and with the Iraqi government still qualitatively dependent on US support, this appears likely. The same is true for Article 28, which states, “The Government of Iraq may request from the United States Forces limited and temporary support for the Iraqi authorities in the mission of security for the Green Zone.”

She concluded:

There is no question that the US has wanted for many years to establish and maintain military bases in Iraq, whether or not they are officially designated as “permanent.” I do not believe the Pentagon is prepared to hand them all over to Iraq, despite the language in the agreement mandating exactly that. Instead, I think the formal arrangement following expiration of the current SOFA may be through some sort of officially “bilateral” agreement between Washington and Baghdad, allowing for the US to “rent” or “lease” or “borrow” the bases from an allegedly “sovereign” government in Iraq on a long-term basis. The likelihood of this increases with the growing number of statements from US military and political officials hinting broadly at the possibility of a long-term presence of US troops in Iraq after December 31, 2011, “if the sovereign government of Iraq should request such an idea …

Faculty Director of the Undergraduate College of Global Studies at Stony Brook University in New York, Professor Michael Schwartz, has written extensively on insurgency and the US Empire.

He pointed out to Truthout that President Obama’s “… actions have made it very clear that he is unwilling to sacrifice the 50,000-strong strike force, even while he has also said he would abide by the SOFA and remove all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. In the meantime, Gates and various generals have released hedging statements or trial balloons saying that the 2011 deadline might be impractical and that various types of forces might stay longer, either to provide air power, to continue training the Iraq military, or to protect Iraq from invasion. Any or all of these could translate into the maintenance of the 50k strike force as well as the five ‘enduring bases.'”

That the Obama administration intends to maintain a significant military presence in Iraq after 2011 is obvious from its continued insistence that in Iraq “democracy” must be guaranteed.

Schwartz explained:

In Washington speak this means that the government of Iraq must be an ally of the United States, a condition that has been iterated and reiterated by all factions (GOP and Democrat) in Washington, since the original invasion. Given the increasing unwillingness of the Maliki administration to follow US dictates (for example, on oil contracts, on relations with Iran, and on relations with Anbar and other Sunni provinces), the removal of troops would allow Maliki even more leeway to pursue policies unacceptable to Washington. Thus, even if Maliki succeeds himself in the Premiership, the US may need troops to keep the pressure on him. If he does not succeed himself, then the likely alternate choices are far more explicit in their antagonism to integration of Iraq into the US sphere of interest … the Obama administration would then be left with the unacceptable prospect that withdrawal would result in Iraq adopting a posture not unlike Iran’s with regard to US presence and influence in the Middle East.

His grim conclusion:

All in all, there are myriad signs that withdrawal of US troops might result in Iraq breaking free from US influence and/or deprive the United States of the strong military presence in that part of the Middle East that both Bush and Obama advocated and have struggled to establish. Until I see some sign that the five bases are going to be dismantled, I will continue to believe that the US will find some reason – with or without the consent of the Iraqi government – to maintain a very large (on the order of 50k) military force there.

Expanding the Base

The US embassy in Iraq, already the largest diplomatic compound on the planet and the size of the Vatican City, is now likely to be doubled in size. Robert Ford, the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad, told reporters in January, “If Congress gives us the money we are asking for, this embassy is going to be twice the size it is now. It’s not going down, it’s getting bigger.”

In 2005, The Washington Post reported:

An even more expensive airfield renovation is underway in Iraq at the Balad air base, a hub for US military logistics, where for $124 million the Air Force is building additional ramp space for cargo planes and helicopters. And farther south, in Qatar, a state-of-the-art, 104,000-square-foot air operations center for monitoring US aircraft in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa is taking shape in the form of a giant concrete bunker … the US military has more than $1.2 billion in projects either underway or planned in the Central Command region – an expansion plan that US commanders say is necessary both to sustain operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and to provide for a long-term presence in the area.

Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan III, who oversees Central Command’s air operations pointed out, “As the ground force shrinks, we’ll need the air to be able to put a presence in parts of the country where we don’t have soldiers, to keep eyes out where we don’t have soldiers on the ground.”

In 2007 in a piece titled “US Builds Air base in Iraq for the Long Haul” NPR reported, “The US military base in Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, is rapidly becoming one of the largest American military installations on foreign soil … The base is one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades.”

It is so big that, “There is a regular bus service within its perimeter to ferry around the tens of thousands of troops and contractors who live here. And the services are commensurate with the size of the population. The Subway sandwich chain is one of several US chains with a foothold here. There are two base exchanges that are about as large as a Target or K-Mart. Consumer items from laptop computers to flat-screen TV’s to Harley Davidson motorcycles are available for purchase.”

The report added, “Several senior military officials have privately described Balad Air Base, and a few other large installations in Iraq, as future bases of operation for the US military.” The term used is “lily pad,” a description of the military jumping from base to base without ever touching the ground in between.

In September 2009 The New York Times reported about Balad:

It takes the masseuse, Mila from Kyrgyzstan, an hour to commute to work by bus on this sprawling American base. Her massage parlor is one of three on the base’s 6,300 acres and sits next to a Subway sandwich shop in a trailer, surrounded by blast walls, sand and rock. At the Subway, workers from India and Bangladesh make sandwiches for American soldiers looking for a taste of home. When the sandwich makers’ shifts end, the journey home takes them past a power plant, an ice-making plant, a sewage treatment center, a hospital and dozens of other facilities one would expect to find in a small city. And in more than six years, that is what Americans have created here: cities in the sand…. Some bases have populations of more than 20,000, with thousands of contractors and third-country citizens to keep them running.

Camp Anaconda, as the Balad base is named, also has an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The bottling company there provides seven million bottles of water a month for those on base. This base also contains two fire stations and the single busiest landing strip in the entire Defense Department.

A 2006 Associated Press story, “Elaborate US Bases raise long-term questions,” gave the following account:

[At Balad] the concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that’s now the home of up to 120 US helicopters, a “heli-park” as good as any back in the States. At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads. The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air traffic control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid – a typical sign of a long-term base. At Tallil, besides the new $14 million dining facility, Ali Air Base is to get, for $22 million, a double perimeter security fence with high-tech gate controls, guard towers and a moat – in military parlance, a “vehicle entrapment ditch with berm.”

Truthout contacted renowned journalist and filmmaker John Pilger for his views:

Like Afghanistan, the occupation of Iraq is more a war of perception than military reality. I don’t believe the US has the slightest intention of leaving Iraq. Yes, there will be the “drawdown” of regular troops with the kind of fanfare and ritual designed to convince the American public that a genuine withdrawal is happening. But the sum of off-the-record remarks by senior generals, who are ever conscious of the war of perception, is that at least 70,000 troops will remain in various guises. Add to this up to 200,000 mercenaries. This is an old ruse. The British used to “withdraw” from colonies and leave behind fortress-bases and their Special Forces, the SAS.

Bush invaded Iraq as part of a long-term US design to restore one of the pillars of US policy and empire in the region: in effect, to make all of Iraq a base. The invasion went badly wrong and the “country as base” concept was modified to that of Iraq indirectly controlled or intimidated by a series of fortress-bases. These are permanent. This is also the US plan for Afghanistan. One has to keep in mind that US foreign policy is now controlled by the Pentagon, whose man is Robert Gates. It is as if Bush never left office. Under Bush there was an effective military coup in much of Washington; the State Department was stripped of its power; and Obama did as no president has ever done: he brought across from a previous, discredited administration the entire war making bureaucracy and gave it virtually unlimited power. The only way the US will leave is for the resistance to rise again, and for Shiites and Sunni to unite; I think that will happen.

Captain, My Captain

On March 4, 2010, as a guest on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show,” Thomas Ricks, who was the military correspondent for the Washington Post, referring to President Obama’s promises to withdraw from Iraq, said, “I would say you shouldn’t believe [it] because I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think we’re going to have several thousand, several tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq on the day President Obama leaves office.”

Gen. George Casey, the chief of staff of the US Army, stated last May that his planning for the Army envisions combat troops in Iraq for a decade as part of a sustained US commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East. “Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction,” he said, “They fundamentally will change how the Army works.”

Senior CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who served under seven presidents – from John Kennedy to George H. W. Bush – explained to Truthout, “Since 2003 I’ve been suggesting that the Iraq war was motivated by the acronym OIL: oil, Israel, and Logistics (military bases to further the interests of the first two).”

In January 2008, McGovern wrote of statements signed by George W. Bush when he was in the White House:

Contrary to how President George W. Bush has tried to justify the Iraq war in the past, he has now clumsily – if inadvertently – admitted that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was aimed primarily at seizing predominant influence over its oil by establishing permanent (the administration favors “enduring”) military bases. He made this transparently clear by adding a signing statement to the defense appropriation bill, indicating that he would not be bound by the law’s prohibition against expending funds:

“(1) To establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq,” or

“(2) To exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.”

At the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on November 20, 2006, in a speech titled “A Way Forward in Iraq,” Sen. Barack Obama, who had not yet become the commander in chief of the US military, declared:

Drawing down our troops in Iraq will allow us to redeploy additional troops to Northern Iraq and elsewhere in the region as an over-the-horizon force. This force could help prevent the conflict in Iraq from becoming a wider war, consolidate gains in Northern Iraq, reassure allies in the Gulf, allow our troops to strike directly at al Qaeda wherever it may exist, and demonstrate to international terrorist organizations that they have not driven us from the region.

On March 16, 2010, Gen. David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, told lawmakers that the US military may set up an additional headquarters in northern Iraq even after the September 2010 deadline. Petraeus said that putting a headquarters in northern Iraq was “something we are looking at.”

What reason is there to doubt our commander in chief ‘s assertion that there is need to maintain an (approximately 50,000 strong) US “strike force” in or near Iraq to guarantee US interests in the Middle East, to allow Washington to move quickly against jihadists in the region and to make clear to “our enemies” that the US will not be “driven from the region”?

Bhaswati Sengupta contributed to this report. 

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Obama’s Iraq: The Picture of Dorian Gray April 28, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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While the US tries to present a new face, the ugliness of the occupation continues. Now it seems combat troops won’t exactly withdraw from Iraqi cities on June 30.

by Jeremy Scahill

Remember when Barack Obama made that big announcement at Camp Lejeune about how all US combat troops were going to be withdrawn from Iraqi cities by June 30? Liberals jumped around with joy, praising Obama for ending the war so that they could focus on their “good war” in Afghanistan.

Of course, the celebrations were and remain unwarranted. Obama’s Iraq plan is virtually identical to the one on Bush’s table on January 19, 2009. Obama has just rebranded the occupation, sold it to liberals and dropped the term “Global War on Terror” while, for all practical purposes, continuing the Bush era policy (that’s why leading Republicans praised Obama’s plan). In the real world, US military commanders have said they are preparing for an Iraq presence for another 15-20 years, the US embassy is the size of Vatican City, there is no official plan for the withdrawal of contractors and new corporate mercenary contracts are being awarded. The SoFA Agreement between the US and Iraq gives the US the right to extend the occupation indefinitely and to continue intervening militarily in Iraq ad infinitum. All it takes is for the puppets in Baghdad to ask nicely…

In the latest episode of the “Occupation Rebranded” mini-series, President Obama is preparing to scrap the June 30 withdrawal timeline.

As The New York Times reports: “The United States and Iraq will begin negotiating possible exceptions to the June 30 deadline for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraqi cities, focusing on the troubled northern city of Mosul, according to military officials. Some parts of Baghdad also will still have combat troops.”

According to the Times, the US is playing with the definition of the word “city” when speaking of withdrawing combat troops from all cities:

[T]here are no plans to close the Camp Victory base complex, consisting of five bases housing more than 20,000 soldiers, many of them combat troops. Although Victory is only a 15 minute drive from the center of Baghdad and sprawls over both sides of the city’s boundary, Iraqi officials say they have agreed to consider it outside the city.In addition, Forward Operating Base Falcon, which can hold 5,000 combat troops, will also remain after June 30. It is just within Baghdad’s southern city limits. Again, Iraqi officials have classified it as effectively outside Baghdad, so no exception to the agreement needs to be granted, in their view.

Combat troops with the Seventh Field Artillery Regiment will remain in the heart of Baghdad at Camp Prosperity, located near the new American Embassy compound in the Green Zone. In addition to providing a quick reaction force, guarding the embassy and noncombat troops from attack, those soldiers will also continue to support Iraqi troops who are now in nominal charge of maintaining security in the Green Zone.

Camp Victory is of tremendous strategic importance to the US occupation. In addition to the military’s share of Baghdad International Airport, it includes four bases-Victory, Liberty, Striker and Slayer-as well as the US-run prison “Camp Cropper.” That’s where the US keeps its “high value” prisoners. While the US officially handed control of Forward Operating Base Freedom to “Iraqi control,” the US military is keeping the swimming pool.

Meanwhile, future plans are being laid for other US bases. Camp Prosperity is going to house US contractors and other personnel, while at Camp Union III housing is being built for several thousand soldiers, trainers and advisers.

What is abundantly clear is that there are enough cosmetic changes going on in Baghdad intended to make it look like the occupation is ending, while continuing it. Again, from the Times:

The Green Zone was handed over to Iraqi control Jan. 1, when the agreement went into effect. In addition to the United States-Iraqi patrols, most of the security for the Green Zone’s many checkpoints and heavily guarded entry points is still done by the same private contractors who did it prior to Jan. 1.“What you’re seeing is not a change in the numbers, it’s a doctrine change,” said First Sgt. David Moore, a New Jersey National Guardsman with the Joint Area Support Group, which runs the Green Zone. “You’re still going to have fighters. Every U.S. soldier is trained to fight.”

The Iraq occupation is like The Picture of Dorian Gray. No matter what public face the Obama administration attempts to present, it only grows more heinous with each passing day.

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

The Military’s Expanding Waistline February 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in War.
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By Pratap Chatterjee, www.tomdispatch.com, February 19, 2009

What Will Obama Do With KBR?

President Obama will almost certainly touch down in Baghdad and Kabul in Air Force One sometime in the coming year to meet his counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he will just as certainly pay a visit to a U.S. military base or two. Should he stay for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or midnight chow with the troops, he will no less certainly choose from a menu prepared by migrant Asian workers under contract to Houston-based KBR, the former subsidiary of Halliburton.

If Barack Obama takes the Rhino Runner armor-plated bus from Baghdad Airport to the Green Zone, or travels by Catfish Air’s Blackhawk helicopters (the way mere mortals like diplomats and journalists do), instead of by presidential chopper, he will be assigned a seat by U.S. civilian workers easily identified by the red KBR lanyards they wear around their necks.

Even if Obama gets the ultra-red carpet treatment, he will still tread on walkways and enter buildings that have been constructed over the last six years by an army of some 50,000 workers in the employ of KBR. And should Obama chose to order the troops in Iraq home tomorrow, he will effectively sign a blank check for billions of dollars in withdrawal logistics contracts that will largely be carried out by a company once overseen by Dick Cheney.

Questions for the Pentagon

If Obama wants to find out why KBR civilian workers can be found in every nook and cranny of U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, he might be better off visiting the Rock Island Arsenal in western Illinois. It’s located on the biggest island in the Mississippi River, the place where Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk nation was once born. The arsenal’s modern stone buildings house the offices of the U.S. Army Materiel Command from which KBR’s multibillion dollar Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program contract (LOGCAP) have been managed for the last seven years. This is the mega-contract that has, since September 11, 2001, generated more than $25 billion for KBR to set up and manage military bases overseas (and resulted, of course, in thousands of pages of controversial news stories about the company’s war profiteering).

Even more conveniently, Obama could pop over to KBR’s Crystal City government operations headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, just a mile south of the Pentagon and five miles from the White House. On Crystal City Drive just before Ronald Reagan National airport, it’s hard to miss the KBR corporate logo, those gigantic red letters on the 11-story building at the far corner of Crystal Park.

Many people who know something about KBR’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan might want Obama to question the military commanders at Rock Island and the corporate executives in Arlington about the shoddy electrical work, unchlorinated shower water, overcharges for trucks sitting idle in the desert, deaths of KBR employees and affiliated soldiers in Iraq, million-dollar alleged bribes accepted by KBR managers, and billions of dollars in missing receipts, among a slew of other complaints that have received wide publicity over the last five years.

But those would be the wrong questions.

Obama needs to ask his Pentagon commanders this: Can the U.S. military he has now inherited do anything without KBR?

And the answer will certainly be a resounding no.

Keeping a Volunteer Army Happy

Tim Horton is the head of public relations for Logistical Supply Area Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, the biggest U.S. base in that country. He was a transportation officer for 20 years and has a simple explanation for why the army relies so heavily on contractors to operate facilities today.

 

“What we have today is an all-volunteer army, unlike in a conscription army when they had to be here. In the old army, the standard of living was low, the pay scale was dismal; it wasn’t fun; it wasn’t intended to be fun. But today we have to appeal, we have to recruit, just like any corporation, we have to recruit off the street. And after we get them to come in, it behooves us to give them a reason to stay in.”

 

Even in 2003, the U.S. military was incredibly overstretched. For the Bush administration to go to war then, it needed an army of cheap labor to feed and clean up after the combat troops it sent into battle. Those troops, of course, were young U.S. citizens raised in a world of creature comforts. Unlike American soldiers from their parents’ or grandparents’ generations who were drafted into the military in the Korean or Vietnam eras and ordered to peel potatoes or clean latrines, the modern teenager can choose not to sign up at all.

As Horton points out, the average soldier gets an average of $100,000 worth of military training in four years; if he or she then doesn’t reenlist, the military has to spend another $100,000 to train a replacement. “What if we spend an extra $6,000 to get them to stay and save the loss of talent and experience?” Horton asks. “What does it take to keep the people? There are some creature comforts in this Wal-Mart and McDonald’s society that we live in that soldiers have come to expect. They expect to play an Xbox, to keep in touch by e-mail. They expect to eat a variety of foods.”

A quarter-century ago, when Horton joined the Army, all they got was a fourteen-day rotational menu. “We had chili-mac every two weeks, for crying out loud. What is that? Unstrained, low-grade hamburger mixed with macaroni. Lot of calories, lots of fat, lots of starch, that’s what a soldier needs to do his job. When you were done, you had a heart attack.”

Today, says Horton, expectations are different. “Our soldiers need to feel and believe that we care about them, or they will leave. The Army cannot afford to allow the soldier to be disenfranchised.”

When I visited with him in April 2008, Horton took me to meet Michael St. John of the Pennsylvania National Guard, the chief warrant officer at one of Anaconda’s dining facilities. St. John led me on a tour of the facility, pointing out little details of which he was justly proud — like the fresh romaine lettuce brought up from Kuwait by Public Warehousing Corporation (PWC) truck drivers who make the dangerous 12-hour journey across the desert, so that KBR cooks have fresh and familiar food for the troops. Stopping at the dessert bar St. John explained, “We added blenders to make milkshakes, microwaves to heat up apple pie, and waffle bars with ice cream.” The “healthy bar” was the next stop. “Here,” he pointed out, “we offer baked fish or chicken breast, crab legs, or lobster claws or tails.”

“Contractors here do all the work,” St. John added. He explained that he had about 25 soldiers and six to eight KBR supervisors to oversee 175 workers from a Saudi company named Tamimi, feeding 10,000 people a day and providing take-away food for another thousand.

“They do everything from unloading the food deliveries to taking out the trash. We are hands off. Our responsibility is military oversight: overseeing the headcount, ensuring that the contractors are providing nutritional meals and making sure there are no food-borne illnesses. It’s the only sustainable way to get things done, given the number of soldiers we have to feed.”

Horton chimes in: “I treat myself to an ice-cream cone once a week. You know what that is? It’s a touch of home, a touch of sanity, a touch of civilization. The soldiers here do not have bars; all that is gone. You’ve taken the candy away from the baby. What do you have to give him? What’s wrong with giving him a little bit of pizza or ice cream?”

Between a chili-mac military and a pizza-and-ice-cream military, the difference shows — around the waistline. Sarah Stillman, a freelance journalist with the website TruthDig, tells a story she heard about a PowerPoint slide that’s becoming popular in Army briefings: “Back in 2003, the average soldier lost fifteen pounds during his tour of Iraq. Now, he gains ten.”

Stillman says that the first warning many U.S. troops receive here in Baghdad isn’t about IEDs (improvised explosive devices), RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), or even EFPs (explosively formed projectiles). It’s about PCPs: “pervasive combat paunches.”

Privatizing the U.S. Army

KBR has grossed more than $25 billion since it won a 10-year contract in late 2001 to supply U.S. troops in combat situations around the world. As of April 2008, the company estimated that it had served more than 720 million meals, driven more than 400 million miles on various convoy missions, treated 12 billion gallons of potable water, and produced more than 267 million tons of ice for those troops. These staggering figures are testimony to the role KBR has played in supporting the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries targeted in President Bush’s Global War on Terror.

And in the first days of the new Obama administration, the company continues to win contracts. On January 28, 2009, KBR announced that it had been awarded a $35.4 million contract by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the design and construction of a convoy support center at Camp Adder in Iraq. The center will include a power plant, an electrical distribution center, a water purification and distribution system, a waste-water collection system, and associated information systems, along with paved roads, all to be built by KBR.

How did the U.S. military become this dependent on one giant company? Well, this change has been a long time coming. During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, a consortium of four companies led by the Texas construction company Brown & Root (the B and R in KBR) built almost every military base in South Vietnam. That, of course, was when Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan with close ties to the Brown brothers, was president. In 1982, two years into Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Brown & Root struck gold again. It won lucrative contracts to build a giant U.S. base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, a former British colony.

In 1985, General John A. Wickham drew up plans to streamline logistics work on military bases under what he dubbed the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), but his ideas would remain in a back drawer for several years. In the meantime, Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense in the administration of the elder George Bush, loosed the American military on Iraq in the First Gulf War in 1991, and hired hundreds of separate contractors to provide logistics support. The uneven results of this early privatizing effort left military planners frustrated. By the time Cheney left office, he had asked Brown & Root to dust off the Wickham LOGCAP plan and figure out how to consolidate and expand the contracting system.

President Bill Clinton’s commanders took a harder look at the new plan that Brown & Root had drawn up and liked what they saw. In 1994, that company was hired to build bases in Bosnia and later in Kosovo, as well as to take over the day-to-day running of those bases in the middle of a war zone.

By the time Donald Rumsfeld took over as Secretary of Defense under the younger George Bush, he had embraced the revolution that Wickham had begun, and Clinton and Cheney had implemented. At a Pentagon event on the morning of September 10, 2001, one day before three aircraft struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Rumsfeld identified the crucial enemy force his assembled senior staff would take on in the coming years:

 

“The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America. This adversary is one of the world’s last bastions of central planning. It governs by dictating five-year plans. From a single capital, it attempts to impose its demands across time zones, continents, oceans, and beyond. With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas. It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk. You may think I’m describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world. The adversary’s closer to home. It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy. 

“We must ask tough questions. Why is DOD [Department of Defense] one of the last organizations around that still cuts its own checks? When an entire industry exists to run warehouses efficiently, why do we own and operate so many of our own? At bases around the world, why do we pick up our own garbage and mop our own floors, rather than contracting services out, as many businesses do?”

 

He outlined a series of steps to slash headquarter staffs by 15% in the two years to come and promised even more dramatic changes to follow. While the invasion of Afghanistan the following month was conducted by military personnel, Rumsfeld’s ideas started to be implemented in the spring of 2002. Indeed, the building of bases in Kuwait in the fall of 2002 for the coming invasion of Iraq was handled almost entirely by KBR.

Today, there is one KBR worker for every three U.S. soldiers in Iraq — and the main function of these workers, under LOGCAP, is to build base infrastructure and maintain them by doing all those duties that once were considered part of military life — making sure that soldiers are fed, their clothes washed, and their showers and toilets kept clean. While many stories have been written about the $80,000 annual salaries earned by KBR truck drivers, most of the company’s workers make far less, mainly because they are hired from countries like India and the Philippines where starting salaries of $300 a month are considered a fortune.

Outsourcing the Kitchen Patrol

The majority of KBR’s labor force, some 40,000 workers (the equivalent of about 80 military battalions), are “third country nationals” drawn largely from the poorer parts of Asia. In April 2008, I flew to Kuwait city where I spent time with a group of Fijian truck drivers who worked for a local company, PWC, doing subcontracting work for KBR.

My host was Titoko Savuwati from Totoya Lau, one of the Moala Islands in Fiji. He picked me up one evening in a small white Toyota Corolla rental car. The cranked-up sound system was playing American country favorites and oldies. Six feet tall with broad, rangy shoulders, short-cropped hair, and a goatee, Savuwati had been a police officer in Fiji. He was 50 years old and had left at home six children he hadn’t seen in four years. When he got out of his car, I noticed that he had a pronounced limp and dragged one foot ever so slightly behind him.

We joined his friends at his apartment for a simple Anglican prayer service. Deep baritone voices filled the tiny living room with Fijian hymns before they sat down to a meal of cassava and curried chicken parts and began to tell me their stories. Each had made at least 100 dangerous trips, driving large 18-wheeler refrigeration trucks that carry all manner of goodies destined for U.S. soldiers from Kuwaiti ports to bases like LSA Anaconda. They sleep in their trucks, not being allowed to sleep in military tents or trailers along the way.

Savuwati had arrived in Kuwait on January 14, 2005, as one of 400 drivers, hoping to earn $3,000 a month. Instead, his real pay, he discovered, was 175 Kuwaiti dinar (KWD) a month (US$640), out of which he had to pay for all his food and sundries, even on the road, as well as rent. Drivers were given an extra 50 dinar ($183) allowance on each trip to Iraq.

“I came to Iraq because of the large amount of money they promised me,” he said, sighing. “But they give us very little money. We’ve been crying for more money for many months. Do you think my family can survive on fifty KWD?” He sends at least 100 dinars ($365) home a month and has no savings that would pay for a ticket home at a round-trip price of roughly $2,500.

I did a quick calculation. For every trip, if they worked the 12-hour shifts expected of them, the Fijians earned about $30 a day, or $2.50 an hour. I asked Savuwati about his limp. On a trip to Nasariyah in 2005, he told me, his truck flipped over, injuring his leg. Did he get paid sick leave? Savuwati looked incredulous. “The company didn’t give me any money. When we are injured, the company gives us nothing.” But, he assured me, he had been lucky — a number of fellow drivers had been killed on the job.

The next day, I stopped by to see the Fijians again, and Savuwati gave me a ride home. I offered to pay for gasoline and, after first waving me away, he quickly acquiesced. As he dropped me off, he looked at me sheepishly and said, “I’ve run out of money. Do you think you could give me one KWD [$3.65] for lunch?” I dug into my pocket and handed the money over. As I walked away, I thought about how ironic it was that the men who drove across a battle zone, dodging stones, bullets, and IEDs to bring ice cream, steak, lobster tails, and ammunition to U.S. soldiers, had to beg for food themselves.

This, of course, is the real face of the American military today, though it’s never seen by Americans.

Obama’s Army

Pentagon commanders often speak of a “revolution in military affairs” when summing up the technological advances that allow them to stalk enemies by satellite, fire missiles from unmanned aerial vehicles, and protect U.S. soldiers with night-vision goggles, but they rarely explain the social and logistical changes that have accompanied this revolution.

Today, U.S. soldiers are drawn from a video-game culture that embraces computers on the battlefield, even as the U.S. Army bears ever less relation to the draft armies that did the island-hopping in the Pacific in World War II or fought jungle battles in Vietnam. Indeed, the personnel that Obama will soon visit in Iraq and Afghanistan is generally supplied with hot food and showers around the clock in combat zones in the same way they might be on a Stateside base — by workers like Savuwati.

Undoubtedly, an Obama administration could begin to cut some of the notorious fat out of the contracts that make that possible, including multi-million dollar overcharges. Obama’s potential budget trimmers could, for example, take whistleblowers inside KBR and the Pentagon seriously when they report malfeasance and waste.

But could Obama dismiss KBR’s army, even if he wanted to? Will Obama really be willing to ask American volunteer soldiers to give up the bacon, romaine lettuce, and roast turkey that they have come to expect in a war zone? And even if he could do so, those are only the luxuries. Keep in mind that, on U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, every single item, from beans to bullets, is shipped using contractors like PWC of Kuwait and Maersk of Denmark. In the last two decades, the U.S. military has even divested itself of the hardware and people that would allow it to move tanks around the world, relying instead on contractors to do such work.

The White House website states that “Obama and Biden support plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 27,000 Marines. Increasing our end strength will help units retrain and re-equip properly between deployments and decrease the strain on military families.” As part of the same policy statement, the site claims the new administration will reform contracting by creating “transparency for military contractors,” as well as restoring “honesty, openness, and commonsense to contracting and procurement” by “rebuilding our contract officer corps.”

Nowhere, however, does that website suggest that the new administration will work toward ending, or even radically cutting back, the use of contractors on the battlefield, or that those 92,000 new soldiers and Marines are going to fill logistics battalions that have been decimated in the last two decades. What we already know of the military policies of the new administration suggests instead that President Obama wants to expand U.S. military might. So don’t be surprised if the new LOGCAP contract, a $150 billion 10-year program that began on September 20, 2008, remains in place, with some minor tinkering around the edges to provide value for taxpayer money. KBR’s army, it seems, will remain on the march.

Pratap Chatterjee is the author of Halliburton’s Army: How A Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War. He is the managing editor of CorpWatch. A TomDispatch audio interview in which Chatterjee discusses KBR World can be heard by clicking here.