Underground U.S. Military activities

Les Schaffer schaffer at SPAMoptonline.net
Tue May 8 09:47:11 MDT 2001

[BOUNCE Non-member submission from [ICPJ <icpj at igc.apc.org>]]

The Underground Military

William M. Arkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, May 7, 2001; 12:00 AM

The military facility in Iquitos, Peru is not a U.S. airbase, nor does
it appear in any list of U.S. military facilities. The Americans
providing real-time tracking information to the Peruvian air force are
not government or military personnel.

So, who are the gaggle of Iquitos "contractors" employed by a company
named Aviation Development Corporation, a company which is located on
Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery, Alabama, but is not a part of
the U.S. Air Force? Who are the contractors operating a specially
outfitted Cessna Citation V surveillance plane that flies the
U.S. flag but does not belong to the U.S. government? Who are the
contractors operating from a hangar built by a Peruvian company paid
by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?

They are the fighters in our drug war!

The American people are supposed to believe that Peruvian operations
to stem the cocaine flow into the United States are innocuous, but we
cannot know who the players are or what they are up to until disaster
strikes. When the destroyer USS Cole met disaster in Yemen last
October, or the Navy EP-3 was attacked off of Hainan island, we were
similarly educated about underground activities of the U.S. military.

In his election campaign, President Bush vowed to reduce the American
military presence around the world. It's a particularly tough task
when much of the "presence" isn't acknowledged or official. Taken
individually, each country like Peru or a Yemen may have a
justification for secrecy. But when one adds up all the all the Peru's
and Yemen's, it becomes apparent that the U.S. military is
increasingly everywhere and nowhere.

Israel: Capital of Classified Bases

At the same time Peru was in the headlines, there were press reports
that the United States and Israel had conducted an unusual joint
military exercise in the Negev desert. Jane's Defence Weekly called it
Israel's "first" exercise with the U.S. Air Force. The Jerusalem Post
called it a "marked boost in military cooperation."  Neither assertion
is true, but that is the problem of an underground military policy. It
is hard to know exactly what is going on.

In fact, the United States and Israel have a regular series of
military exercises, going under the code names Juniper Stallion,
Juniper Cobra, Noble Shirley, and other Juniper variations. A month
before March's Juniper Stallion exercise, another American contingent
was in Israel for Juniper Cobra, a tactical missile defense exercise
which included test-firing Patriot missiles while the U.S. Navy Aegis
destroyer USS Porter operated off the coast. The exercise, perhaps
coincidentally, ended just five days before the February 16 U.S. and
British air attacks against Iraqi air defense sites.

Last year's Juniper Stallion exercise involved the aircraft carrier
battle group USS Eisenhower, and was from March 19-26. Eight
U.S. aircraft operated from Nevatim airfield in Israel and U.S. Navy
SEALs went ashore to train with their Israeli counterparts. During
Juniper Stallion 2000, according to the Eisenhower public affairs
office, U.S. aircraft were able to drop live bombs at two desert
ranges in Israel, giving crews valuable experience given the temporary
prohibition from dropping live ordnance on Vieques Island in Puerto

Juniper Stallion 99, held in August 1999, was an even more extensive,
and secret, exercise. U.S. Air Force munitions personnel from Italy
were deployed to officially non-existent sites where they inspected
and maintained the $500 million worth of ammunition the United States
keeps in Israel for wartime contingencies. Their bases, called Sites
51, 53, and 54, don't appear on any map. Their specific locations are
classified and highly sensitive.

And it's not just munitions. The United States has "prepositioned"
vehicles, military equipment, even a 500-bed hospital, for U.S.
Marines, Special Forces, and Air Force fighter and bomber aircraft at
at least six sites in Israel, all part of what is antiseptically
described as "U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation."

Such cooperation may or may not enhance American security, may or may
not be a prudent part of planning to defend a close friend. The extent
of U.S. involvement may or may not be known and understood by
U.S. decision-makers and the Congress. But the reason for all the
secrecy is clear: All around Israel, in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia,
Oman, and the Gulf states, the U.S. has newly built up an enormous and
yet officially non-existent military presence.

Nervous Hosts

Here is the web we weave: The Germany-based 22nd Fighter Squadron, the
main U.S. Air Force unit to participate in the March Juniper Stallion
exercise in Israel, returned from a 90-day tour in Saudi Arabia in
late November. The squadron's mission flying the southern Iraqi
"no-fly" zone during its Saudi deployment warranted a press release
and a couple of stories in military newspapers. But it's foray into
Israel was--and is--"classified."

If the Air Force issued a press release about the Israel exercise, the
22nd might not be allowed back into Saudi Arabia next time.  Not to
worry much though. As the Persian Gulf has effectively become an
American military protectorate, the U.S. had built up more than a few,
officially non-existent facilities and "classified" operations in this
part of the world as well. It is secrecy that allows our Saudi hosts
to ignore the U.S.-Israel relationship, but also to maintain the fig
leaf that they do not permit military bases on their soil.

On the surface, it's all about "containing" Iraq, but underground,
tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel (and "contractors") have
flooded the entire region: an Army battalion mans the border north of
Kuwait City; "expeditionary" air units fly from airbases in Kuwait,
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman; an
aircraft carrier battle group plies the waters in and around the Gulf,
more and more depots fill up with stockpiled weapons and munitions
ready to accommodate reinforcing ground and air units.

Waiting for Disaster

After the missionary plane shootdown in Peru, government spokesmen and
CIA officials were quick to justify their counterdrug arrangements
("vital," "working," blah, blah blah). Their explanations revealed not
only a labyrinth at Iquitos but at least a dozen additional officially
non-existent air bases, radars, command centers, and who knows what
extending from Honduras and El Salvador down to Ecuador, Peru,
Bolivia, and Columbia and back north to Curacao, Puerto Rico, and the

>From Central and South America to Israel to the Gulf, more than
200,000 U.S. military personnel (and who knows how many "contractors")
are out there worldwide. Since the waning days of the Cold War, the
number has declined by about half. Yet about 90 percent of the cuts
occurred as a result of reductions in European- based forces, mostly
in Germany. In most places outside Europe, there have been significant
increases in the underground presence.

After the 2000 election, Colin Powell and other incoming Bush
administration foreign policy officials decried U.S. forces being
stretched thin. "Our plan," Powell says, "is to ... take a look not
only at our deployments in Bosnia but in Kosovo and many other places
around the world, and make sure those deployments are proper."

Though Congress has now indicated it will launch a broad review of
U.S. drug interdiction efforts, the Defense Department's "strategic
review" is not examining the new American realm in any comprehensive
way. Will disaster have to strike some else before we get a thoughtful
look at the extent of our secret overseas presence and commitments?

                   © 2001 Washington Post Newsweek Interactive

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