Fifty thousand troops move across the desert in 100 degree-plus temperatures. F-18 jet fighters scream through the air and strafe the rock and sand below. Tanks maneuver over rough terrain to pound enemy positions. A buzzer goes off in a soldier’s helmet: The computer-guided laser network at the Army National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California, is telling this soldier that in a real war he would be dead.

That real war, as far as the Pentagon is concerned, might well be in the Middle East. The soldier is participating in Gallant Eagle 84, a US Central Command training exercise based on a Middle Eastern scenario held September 5-11 at sites in California and Nevada. Gallant Eagle, which cost $33 million to transport troops, tanks, jeeps and jets, is only the latest in a series of 20 such exercises conducted since 1980 to prepare rapid deployment forces for intervention in the Middle East or in other crisis spots worldwide. [1] “We must be prepared,” writes Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in his annual report to Congress for Fiscal Year 1985, “to dispatch forces promptly to any of a number of regions around the world — possibly simultaneously.” “We are particularly interested,” he adds elsewhere, “in improving our ability to deploy sizable combat forces to Europe…and to Southwest Asia.” [2] Firmly casting aside any vestiges of President Nixon’s regional proxy forces doctrine, Weinberger candidly affirms that “our overall strategy for countering a Soviet move toward the Persian Gulf oil fields requires early participation by US forces.”

Responsibility for dispatching those forces to the Middle East now belongs to US Central Command (CENTCOM), created January 1, 1983, as the heir of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force. Central Command controls a territory that had long been divided between the European and Pacific Commands: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, North and South Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea/northern Indian Ocean. Interestingly, its area does not include Israel, Lebanon or Syria.

Central Command is the first new unified command in over 35 years. It faces obstacles unthinkable in long-established theaters such as Europe or Korea: while some 300,000 troops could be requisitioned in a full deployment, all of them would be “on loan” from US-based Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force units, most of which also have tasks assigned in a NATO or other Third World contingency. The US does not have a single NATO-style mutual defense treaty with any nation in CENTCOM’s theater of operations (though secret treaties may exist), nor does it have a major, land-based troop presence in the region. CENTCOM’s headquarters are 7,000 miles distant, in the old Strategic Air Command bunkers at McDill Air Force Base, Florida; a small “forward headquarters unit” of 20 officers was established December 31, 1983, on board the La Salle, flagship of the five-vessel Middle East Force, which has operated in the Persian Gulf since 1949. Southwest Asia’s terrain is widely varied, distances even within the theater are vast, and the harsh climate and lack of water for both men and machines present formidable problems for Central Command planners.

No Invitation Necessary

Given these obstacles, what do military planners expect Central Command forces to be able to do? Their mission was outlined in the secret 1982 Defense Guidance: “Our principal objectives are to assure continued access to Persian Gulf oil, and to prevent the Soviets from acquiring political-military control of the oil directly or through proxies.” [3] However, a leaked portion of the Defense Guidance document for the following year indicates that the Pentagon sees itself some years and billions of dollars away from fulfilling that mission: “We must acquire a reasonable assurance of achieving United States war-fighting objectives in Southwest Asia by the end of the decade.” [4]

Some analysts have said that the rapid deployment forces are at present so ill matched for their mission that sending them into the region would be like “leading lambs to the slaughter.” [5] Pentagon officials refuse to make casualty estimates for the record, but knowledgeable analysts predict that up to one half of the Central Command’s ground forces would be killed or seriously wounded during the first 60 days of combat. [6] Secretary Weinberger’s own report to Congress this year admits that the deployable hospitals available today could provide care for fewer than one in ten of the wounded in a Southwest Asia war. Military commanders, unable to sustain such huge losses politically, actually envisage that Central Command forces will play a somewhat different role. As they see it, a small force equipped with nuclear-capable weapons could be projected rapidly into the region to constitute a warning to the enemy forces that the US is prepared to escalate to nuclear weapons if necessary to protect its interests. This strategy was outlined in the US Army’s Air Land Battle Operations Manual FM100-5, which became Army policy in August 1982. In a chapter on contingency operations, the manual states: “A relatively small, rapidly deployable force with nuclear weapons may be assigned a contingency mission. This force might succeed as a deterrent while a larger, conventional force might deploy too late.” Official policy, as voiced by a Central Command headquarters staff officer, is that “an invitation is a military necessity.” [7] A recent Congressional Research Service study blandly notes that “that is inconsistent with guidance documents which say that the forces must be capable of coercive entry without waiting for an invitation.” [8]

In the coming decade, the Pentagon intends to invest billions of dollars in the Central Command, to make it able to project larger numbers of forces into the region, and thereby perform its intervention mission more directly. Central Command’s capabilities depend critically on improvements in training, equipment and mobility. More than any defense budget in recent history, the Fiscal Year 1985 Pentagon request to Congress stressed precisely those aspects of military preparedness most vital to Central Command: readiness and power projection into Third World crisis areas. Military analyst Michael Klare has calculated that within an overall 13 percent increase in the defense budget request (to $305 billion), spending on “power projection” — for such things as aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships and airlift to get troops and equipment to the war on time — is slated to increase by as much as 34 percent. [9]

Three programs highlighted in the fiscal 1985 budget will specifically augment the Pentagon’s broad Third World intervention capabilities, and thereby enhance Central Command’s ability to perform its mission:

  • an aggressive buildup of naval forces, particularly aircraft carriers and amphibious assault vessels;
  • creation of streamlined, lightweight army divisions; and
  • revitalization of commando and counterinsurgency units in the Special Forces.

Air-Cushioned Intervention

The US Navy’s top program priority for Fiscal Year 1985 is to expand and improve “power projection forces, including carrier battle groups, amphibious assault ships, reactivated battleships, attack submarines and cruise missiles.” If funds are approved, the current 516-ship navy would be built up to 545 ships by the end of FY 1985. Particularly suitable for Southwest Asia are the Navy’s “floating bases,” its aircraft carriers. These ships each carry more than 5,000 men and deploy some 80 high-technology warplanes. They carry sophisticated conventional weapons systems and a component of nuclear warheads which can be dropped from aircraft or missile-launched. The Navy is planning to move from 13 carrier task forces now to 15 by the end of the decade. (Navy Secretary John Lehman has estimated that the planes, cruisers, destroyers, submarines and other vessels that protect a single carrier cost at least $17 billion.) [10] Three carrier task forces are earmarked for Central Command duty, as needed.

Amphibious assault forces, which most recently saw action in the Grenada invasion and supporting the Marines in Lebanon, will be strengthened by Navy plans to increase amphibious lift capability by about one third in the decade ahead. This goal Secretary Weinberger deems especially important “in light of the need for an expanded military deterrent against Soviet aggression in Southwest Asia.” The cornerstone of this program is the LHD-1, a 40,000-ton amphibious assault craft which will transport troops, vehicles, large numbers of helicopters and three air-cushioned landing craft. Building toward a long-term Pentagon goal of 10 or 11, the budget requests $39.2 million for this year, and projects $1,365 billion in fiscal 1986 for these ships.

The Navy is also introducing a new air-cushioned landing craft (LCAC) to carry combat vehicles for a Marine assault force from ship to shore at high speeds, allowing them to attack from tens of miles offshore, out of reach of many land-based weapons. At least 90 of these are slated for purchase; 12 have been funded to date, with nine ($245.7 million) requested for 1985 and 57 over the next five years.

Finally, the Navy budget requests $449.2 million to refurbish a World War II battleship, the USS Missouri, which will provide new offensive power for the Navy sooner and more cheaply than aircraft carriers can be built. The battleships are to be armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can project either conventional or nuclear warheads hundreds of miles. [11] In 1982, the first such reactivated battleship, the USS New Jersey, conducted the heaviest naval bombardment since the Vietnam war, lobbing one-ton shells into Lebanese villages. A second ship, the USS Iowa, was recommissioned in late April.

A Swifter, Lighter Army

Reversing a 30-year trend toward larger and more heavily equipped divisions, the US Army plans this year to create two hard-hitting, elite lightweight infantry divisions for quick response to lower intensity conflicts in resource-rich Third World countries. (Not to be confused with the Ninth Infantry Division, which has developed into a High Technology Motorized Division designed for Southwest Asia, with potential use in NATO. It will be operational in FY1986, and will be oriented toward mid-intensity conflicts in which the opponent is heavily armored.) The light divisions, of which the Army wants eventually to have five, will be formed from existing troops.

Compared to the traditional division of about 18,000 troops, the light divisions will have some 10,000 men. While a standard division requires some 12 days and 1,500 sorties with C-141 planes to deploy to the Persian Gulf, the new divisions would require one-third the time and substantially fewer support soldiers (such as mechanics). [12]

It is Third World forces and not Soviet troops that the Pentagon expects to meet in combat in the near future. One strong indication of this is the “high priority” given in 1985 to strengthening the Special Operations Forces (SOF), including the Green Berets and the Navy SEALs, which spearheaded the Grenada invasion. In Secretary Weinberger’s view, “the high priority we have assigned to SOF revitalization reflects our recognition that low-level conflict — for which the SOF are uniquely suited — will pose the threat we are most likely to encounter throughout the end of this century.”

These forces are trained in counterinsurgency warfare, commando raids, sabotage, hit-and-run attacks, psychological warfare and intelligence missions. SOF units are also currently training armed forces in 15 nations worldwide. In mid-September, the 776-man First Special Forces Group was reactivated — the first such unit to return to active duty since the Vietnam war. In 1985, three additional aviation companies will be activated. Funds are also requested to improve SOF language skills and to buy aircraft specially outfitted to “insert and remove” SOF teams from operational areas. A Joint Special Operations Agency was created on January 1,1984, to oversee this expanded effort. Central Command can draw on up to 3,500 Special Forces for its mission.

Central Command’s Share

The Pentagon budget is designed in such a way that it is difficult to determine just what share of the taxpayers’ dollar is spent on preparations for intervention in Southwest Asia. Most of the spending for Central Command’s mission is hidden in the budgets of the four services. Defense Secretary Weinberger told Congress that $13.6 billion will be spent on projects related to rapid deployment in the years 1984-88, nearly $4.4 billion of which is specifically for Southwest Asia. [13] That figure represents an exceedingly narrow accounting, however. Former Pentagon analyst Earl Ravenal suggests that a more realistic figure would have to include everything from C-rations to soldiers’ paychecks to fighter planes. By dividing up the entire defense budget geographically, he calculates that the Pentagon is requesting some $59 billion for rapidly mobile intervention forces in general and an additional $47 billion specifically for the Persian Gulf region in Fiscal Year 1985 alone. Ravenal calculates $129 billion for Europe and $47 billion for Asia, for a total which adds up to the entire defense budget request ($282 billion), not counting strategic nuclear forces. [14]

The figures include expenditures for three crucial aspects of planning for Central Command: developing facilities in the region and en route that would host an interventionary force; supporting the efforts of friendly regional nations to build up their own military forces and facilities; and pre-positioning equipment on ships in the Indian Ocean.

A leaked portion of Secretary Weinberger’s most recent secret Defense Guidance, an annual outline of US military goals, calls for “as substantial a land presence in the [Middle East] as can be managed.” [15] Over the years, the Carter and Reagan administrations have obtained access to a range of ports, air bases, and other facilities. In the years 1980-1984, Congress appropriated $871 million for military construction to improve these installations, and the Reagan administration plans to request a total of $252 million more for 1985-1989. Just as significant is the US strategy of providing sophisticated aircraft and air defense systems to Gulf states, notably Saudi Arabia, as well as building large air bases and other facilities in those countries to specifications more suited for hosting a US intervention force than for self-defense. US access to such facilities in a crisis is not publicly acknowledged for political reasons, but is certainly tacitly assumed by Pentagon planners.

The highly sophisticated US AWACS planes currently on loan to Saudi Arabia, eventually to be replaced by those the Saudis have purchased, are the foremost example of this Pentagon strategy. According to Navy and Air Force sources, once fully deployed, the Saudi AWACS, operated by US technicians, will be capable of handling air defense radar for all the aircraft on a US carrier or in a Marine Corps wing, up to two US Air force fighter wings and the Saudi air defense forces. [16] This air defense system will soon be reinforced by a nearly $50 million radar and communications package which the Reagan administration is requesting for Kuwait. If approved, the system would allow the Kuwaiti military to better handle intelligence produced by the Saudi-based AWACS. [17]

Although some equipment for the Central Command forces has been pre-positioned in the region itself, in Oman for example, most of this is on board ships near the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The seven ships stationed there in 1980 had been increased to 17 as of 1983, with the following cargoes: equipment for one Marine air-ground task force, two ships with 30-day stocks of supplies, three with Air Force and Army ammunition, four with 44 million gallons of fuel, one with 9 million gallons of drinking water and the rest with mixed supplies. [18] The Pentagon plans to supplement these pre-positioned supplies steadily, with the goal of providing sufficient equipment to maintain three 16,500-man Marine/Airborne brigades in combat for more than four weeks, plus stockpiles for those army and tactical air force units which would be flown in directly from the US for the first five days of conflict. [19]


In late July 1984, a report prepared by the investigative staff of the House Appropriations Committee in March 1983 surfaced and touched off a bitter controversy over this question: Are US military forces ready to fight? The short answer was no. Virtually all of the relevant data has been “sanitized” from the published version of the readiness report; press accounts cited these samples: only two of 16 Army divisions were rated “combat ready”; the Marine Amphibious Unit that was deployed to Lebanon went ashore into mine-infested positions without adequate mine-clearing equipment; the US Army cannot be sustained in combat “for any extended period of time” due to shortages in materiel. [20] Without responding directly to any of the findings of the report, Secretary Weinberger immediately retorted that the report was politically inspired and “dangerously wrong.” The US has “enormously increased” its war-fighting capability under the Reagan administration, he asserted.

For opponents of US military intervention in Southwest Asia, the temptation to be cheered by the thought that US forces may not be ready to intervene is quickly offset by the fact that lack of readiness cannot be equated with a reduced risk of war. Should existing conventional forces prove incapable of ensuring US interests in the region, US officials are ready now to escalate to nuclear weapons use. Based on discussions with Pentagon officials, Anthony Cordesman writes that the strategic value of the Gulf is so great that both the Reagan and Carter administrations have signaled the USSR that “the US would use nuclear weapons rather than suffer a decisive loss of Gulf oil.” [21] President Reagan has stated this threat quite explicitly: Projection of US ground forces, Reagan has said, would be based “on the assumption…the Soviet Union is not ready yet to take on that confrontation which could become World War III…. And I think that a presence [in Southwest Asia] indicates, that, all right, this is of interest to our national security…. And they’re going to have to take that into their computations.” [22]

Readiness is relative. As Cordesman puts it, “CENTCOM forces…still suffer from problems in combat readiness, but their readiness is now significantly better than at the time of the Shah’s fall.” The massive influx of funds under the Reagan administration’s defense build-up has unquestionably enhanced readiness, despite waste, fraud and inefficiency in military production.


Closely related to the readiness debate is the question of dual commitment. This term refers to forces which have been assigned specific roles in two or more contingencies, e.g., in the Persian Gulf and in NATO. Actual deployment in a crisis would seriously deplete the reserves available for military action elsewhere. The Reagan administration is confronting this problem by encouraging its NATO allies to do two things: make up some of the difference within NATO so that the US will be free to respond to Third World contingencies; and consider taking on a greater role themselves, either unilaterally or perhaps even as part of a multinational force in responding to crises in the Persian Gulf.

There is evidence that Washington has made some progress on both counts. One example is the Bonn-Washington Wartime Host Nation Support Agreement, signed on April 15, 1982. This provides for 90,000 German soldiers to take over tasks peformed by US soldiers during times of crisis or war. These jobs include protecting US Air Force and Army installations, transporting materiel, caring for the wounded, guarding POWs and decontaminating equipment and personnel. While Germany and the US both say this agreement is for a NATO — i.e., European — contingency, the operative terms “crisis” and “war” are carefully left unspecified. Such a shift in personnel could in fact be designed to free up US troops for deployment in a Middle East crisis. [23]

“Helix 84,” a NATO civilian exercise conducted in March, hints strongly that such a shift in manpower has reached the planning level. The exercise was based on the scenario of a Soviet invasion of Iran, with a simultaneous buildup of Warsaw Pact forces along the Yugoslav border. During the exercise, “the NATO machinery was going through the motions of dispatching the US Rapid Deployment Force to the area along with some US support from Europe and replacing the latter with European troops and equipment.” [24]

Regarding a direct allied intervention role, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General John Vessey confirmed in a May 1984 interview that “we are seeing more and more cooperation between the United States and individual NATO nations in various outside endeavors.” [25] This cooperation may be taking several forms. Certain NATO allies — particularly Turkey and Portugal — have facilities which would be used by Central Command forces en route to Gulf contingencies. Others, such as France and Britain, already have naval forces in the region which could support US intervention. France has 12-18 ships permanently stationed in the Indian Ocean, one or two aircraft carriers which rotate in and out, and a force of 4,500 stationed at Djibouti. British naval task forces of six ships deploy to the Indian Ocean twice a year. [26] Joint action of this sort has already taken place on at least two occasions: at the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war, when France, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand together deployed 19 ships to the region to warn Iran not to close the Straits of Hormuz [27]; and again in the 1984 Red Sea mine-sweeping operation when US forces entered the region in careful coordination with Britain and France. Whoever was behind the explosions in the Red Sea, noted the Christian Science Monitor, “provided the US and its Western allies with an exercise in joint operations.” [28]

France and Britain could be in a position to collaborate even more directly with a US intervention force in the near future as they each develop rapidly deployable forces of their own. France’s new Force d’Action Rapide is to include 47,000 men; Britain’s force would be much smaller — about 5,000 — and is to be operational sometime in 1985. [29] While no plans for joint action between these forces and Central Command have been made public, the prominent British military journal, Jane’s Defence Review, reports that “CENTCOM can, if necessary, draw additional military units from other third nationals: the United Kingdom and France in particular.” The Review further notes that “the governments of Britain and France seem very reticent about commenting on this involvement.” [30]

The increasing willingness of NATO allies to contemplate action outside the traditional borders of the alliance follows a shift in recent years in the thinking of the highest Pentagon officials. A war in Central Europe, while still the top US military priority, is no longer the most immediately worrisome. A Newsweek poll in June 1984 asked 257 US generals and admirals (one out of every four US-based active flag-rank officers) how concerned they were about the possibility of “a major conventional war in the Middle East that draws in the superpowers.” Sixty-six percent responded that they were concerned “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about that possibility — more than were concerned about any other threat, including a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union growing out of a conventional war (54 percent). [31] The chances that a Central Command expeditionary force could touch off such a war grows greater each year, as the Pentagon concentrates its considerable resources on preparing for that task.

Central Command Bases in the Middle East

Officially, most of the military installations in the Middle East region intended for use by the US Central Command are not “bases” but “facilities.” The one clear exception is the air and naval base at Diego Garcia. One distinction between the two concerns the permanence and numbers of foreign troops. A more important distinction, essentially political, concerns the terms of access: the US exercises some measure of sovereignty or acknowledged control over its “bases,” while “facilities” remain clearly under the sovereignty of the host government, available to the outside power for specific and circumscribed purposes. But even this distinction is relative at best. In Turkey, there are more than 5,000 US military personnel in six major installations and more than 50 small intelligence gathering or communications facilities. Here base agreements with the US go back to 1952. The latest agreements (of 1980) formally state that the bases are under Turkish command and publicly limit base use “to obligations arising out of the North Atlantic Treaty.” But the agreement and its annexes have a number of secret provisions, which some observers fear expand US authority over the bases and extend the NATO commitment to the Persian Gulf.

In Egypt, it is Cairo’s refusal to sign a written agreement guaranteeing US access rights to Ras Banas which has led Congress to restrict funding for construction there. Over the past five years, the US has also made use of Egyptian air bases at Qina and Cairo West, although construction funding is apparently not at issue here. Congressional readiness to fund base construction projects in Oman seems to indicate some formal through secret agreement that has satisfied Congressional concern for guaranteed access.

In Saudi Arabia, the situation is probably most ambiguous. Since the Saudis are financing this construction themselves, the degree of Congressional satisfaction with access rights cannot be measured by funding levels. Publicly, at least, the Saudis have declined to provide the degree of assured access desired by US officials and strategists; for the record, their bases would be available only on specific case-by-case invitation of the Saudi government. On the other hand, US military planners have devised scenarios on the assumption that these facilities will in fact be available when needed. The bases themselves, and the weaponry and munitions stocked there, indicate that such planning is at a fairly advanced stage, and there is a large pool of US military and quasi-military skilled personnel familiar with Saudi operating conditions. As for the appropriateness of calling these “facilities” “bases,” the Congressional Research Service wrote several years ago that “the Department of Defense would probably consider them bases if the Soviets enjoyed the same rights in lieu of the United States.”

Bahrain: The US Navy uses Bahrain’s port regularly. From 1949-1973, the US Middle East Force, a naval contingent operating in the Persian Gulf, was based at Jufayr port. A 1977 agreement allows the Department of Defense to maintain 65 administrative personnel there on a ten-acre compound, essentially continuing the previous relationship. The five ships of the Middle East Force, including the La Salle, which now carries the forward headquarters unit of Central Command, are based there.

Cyprus: Reports in the Nicosia press this summer tell of massive construction underway on Lefkoniko airport in Turkish-occupied Cyprus, at an estimated cost of $500 million. No plausible reason exists for the tiny self-proclaimed Turkish Cypriot nation to build such an airport for its own needs. Christopher Hitchens, writing from Cyprus in August 1984, concludes that “Lefkoniko airport, on the best available evidence, is being readied for the US Rapid Deployment Force.” Diego Garcia: This island naval base in the Indian Ocean is nearly 3,000 miles distant from the Gulf, but plays a vital role in US intervention plans. Its airfield has been enlarged to accommodate the nuclear-armed B- 52 bombers of the Strategic Air Command. This and other improvements cost $57.9 million in 1983, and another $90 million in 1984; $22.41 million was approved for 1985. Pre-positioned supplies for marine/airborne assault forces are stationed here.

Djibouti: US Navy ships can make port calls here and patrol aircraft have “access” to Djibouti facilities.

Egypt: The Pentagon originally planned to create a large $525 million contingency base at Ras Banas, with $500 million worth of pre-positioned equipment. But Egyptian reluctance to approve formally a large US presence there led Congress to scale back the project. In 1984, Congress approved an appropriation of $49 million (out of $55 million requested), which Egypt will be asked to match with $40 million of its own to construct a bare-base facility. Secretary Weinberger told Congress this year that “once construction is completed, access to Ras Banas in time of crisis…would allow us to deploy forces to Southwest Asia or the Middle East much sooner than if we had to wait until we could directly enter the affected country.” In December 1982, he had described Ras Banas as a “continuing possibility, and strategically suitable” as a Central Command headquarters. Three other Egyptian airfields — Cairo West, al-Goura and Ras Nusrani — can handle fighter aircraft and AWACS. Al-Goura, formerly known as Etzion, was built by Israel during its occupation of the Sinai, and is a sophisticated, well-equipped air base. US officials acknowledged in early January 1980 that two AWACS and 250 US Air Force personnel had just completed exercises at Qina Air Base in upper Egypt to practice directing fighter bombers to targets and to aid US ships in a mock blockade of the Arabian Sea. The Iranian “rescue” raid in April 1979 was launched from Qina. Central Command officers refuse to discuss the Qina base or its status. As of June 30, 1984, the Pentagon reports 1,255 US military personnel stationed in Egypt.

Kenya: Because of its distance from the Gulf, US strategists do not see Kenya as a base for initial assault operations by Central Command forces, but rather as a staging area for reinforcements. Kenya offers excellent medical and recreational facilities, and could thus serve as a treatment center for casualties and a rest and recreation site for troops. Kenya Naval Base and Moi Airport at Mombasa have already been upgraded during 1981-1983, at a cost of $57.9 million. Kenya has two additional airfields, at Nairobi and Nanyuki, which might be used in a contingency.

Liberia: An agreement signed in February 1983 allows US military aircraft to land at Monrovia International Airport for refueling; funds have been programmed to expand the airport.

Morocco: US Sixth Fleet ships have for many years had unrestricted access to Moroccan ports. A 1983 agreement permits US access to Sidi Sliman Air Base, to be used as a refueling stop en route to the Persian Gulf. In 1984, $2 million was spent to improve the base; for Fiscal Year 1985, Congress approved $5.05 million.

Oman: The Carter Administration in 1980 negotiated an agreement in which Oman granted US forces the use of “facilities” including: Seeb and Thumrait airfields, where the US will stockpile war materiel; Masira Island, the site of a former British Royal Air Force base, with storage facilities for fuel, lubricants, ammunition and supplies of fresh water and fruit; an airfield at Salala; and an airfield and port at al-Khasab (Goat Island). Congress approved $60.4 million for construction in Oman in 1983; $29.4 million for 1984. The House Subcommittee on Military Construction slashed the $42 million requested by the Pentagon for Fiscal Year 1985 to build warehouses, portable latrines and hardened aircraft shelters in Oman and approved only $2.3 million. The Pentagon continues to view Oman as a prime site for a “brigade staging facility” for CENTCOM and could well request major funding again in the coming years. The prevailing House Appropriations Committee view seems to be that existing investments in base construction in Oman are sufficient for the present.

Portugal: Lajes Air Base, on the Azores, has long been used as a refueling stop for US aircraft involved in Middle East contingency operations. During the 1973 war, for instance, US planes ferrying arms to Israel stopped here. A December 1983 agreement extends US rights to use the air base for seven years.

Saudi Arabia: From 1950-1980, the US made a total of more than $32 billion in military sales agreements with Saudi Arabia, and delivered more than $11 billion worth, with the yearly totals steadily mounting. Three major military cantonments, Tabuk, Khamis Mushayt and King Khalid Military City (under construction), and a number of other Saudi military facilities have been built by the US Army Corp of Engineers (at an estimated total contract value of some $23.5 billion as of Fiscal 1980), and US military advisers have played a major role in designing Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities. Although the US has not formally obtained access to bases in Saudi Arabia, military analyst Maxwell Orme Johnson points out that existing facilities “appear to be far in excess of what the Saudi military would ever use in the future. This suggests that these facilities might one day be used by the [rapid deployment forces].” Five major bases are now operational — air bases at Ta’if, Dhahran and Riyadh, and air and army bases at Tabuk and Khamis Mushayt. A new air and army base at Hafar al-Batin (King Khalid Military City) is nearing completion, and an air base at al-Kharj is under construction. If civilian airports are added to military airport capacity, Saudi Arabia has a total of 24 air bases with extensive runway facilities. Two deep-water ports, at Jubayl and Jidda, have been constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The sale of five Airborne Warning and Control aircraft (AWACS) in early 1981 (for delivery in 1986-1987, to be based at Riyadh and then al-Kharj) guaranteed the presence of US technicians and support personnel in Saudi Arabia for as long as the sophisticated aircraft were in operation. Four US AWACS “on loan” have been based in Saudi Arabia since September 1980, allowing the US Air Force to rotate significant numbers of its personnel into Saudi Arabia for AWACS duty — where they report directly to Central Command. Cordesman writes that the AWACS package would “help strengthen US ability to deploy forces from the eastern Mediterranean and project them as far east as Pakistan in those contingencies that threatened both US and Saudi interests. No conceivable buildup of US strategic mobility, or of US staging bases in Egypt, Turkey, Oman, Somalia or Kenya, could act as a substitute for such facilities in Saudi Arabia.” And Saudi Arabia paid for it all. Anthony Cordesman uses figures of 5,300 US technicians and 425 US military personnel based in Saudi Arabia (citing the New York Times, March 9, 1983). As of June 30, 1984, the Pentagon acknowledges the presence of 541 military personnel there. Maxwell Orme Johnson estimates that between 13,000 and 19,500 American military and civilian contract personnel working on various projects may have been based in Saudi Arabia in 1982.

Somalia: Initial construction of “bare” air and naval bases at Berbera, on the Gulf of Aden, and Mogadishu, on the Indian Ocean, is reportedly complete. Between 1981-1983, $54.4 million was spent there. Cordesman notes that these bases could be used to retain access to the Red Sea and to supply naval forces in the Arabian Sea.

Turkey: In 1982, the US and Turkey signed a Memorandum of Understanding allowing the US to upgrade or build three bases at Erzurum, Muş and Batman in eastern Turkey. The Pentagon asked Congress for $35.3 million for Turkey in 1985, but Congress directed the Pentagon to have these costs funded under the NATO budget. Airfields at these bases will be extended to ready them for large C-5A transport aircraft; stocks of fuel and equipment will be flown in for storage and barracks built. Turkey insists that these bases are for NATO use only, but alleged Soviet involvement in a Middle East contingency could readily be construed as a threat to NATO and trigger US access to the bases. This would put Central Command forces within 700 miles of the Gulf (as compared to 1,000 miles from Ras Banas in Egypt). The US currently stores nuclear weapons in Turkey, and more than 5,000 US military personnel are stationed there. US F-4 fighter planes are based at Incirlik.


[1] Lt. Gen. Robert C. Kingston, “The United States Central Command,” Defense 84 (April 1984), p. 7.
[2] This and all other quotations from Secretary Weinberger are from Report of the Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger to the Congress on the FY 1985 Budget, FY 1986 Authorization Request and FY 1985-1986 Defense Programs, February 1, 1984.
[3] Richard Halloran, “Poised for the Persian Gulf,” New York Times Magazine, April 1, 1984.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Maxwell Orme Johnson, The Military as an Instrument of US Policy in Southwest Asia: The Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, 1979-1982 (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983), p. 105.
[6] Ibid., p. 87.
[7] Ibid., p. 40.
[8] James P. Wooten, Rapid Deployment Force, Congressional Research Service Issue Brief IB80027, updated July 16, 1984, p. 4.
[9] Michael Klare, “May the Force Project Us,” The Nation, February 25, 1984.
[10] Washington Post, March 25, 1984.
[11] Washington Post, April 29, 1984.
[12] Washington Post, February 16, 1984.
[13] Wooten, p. 12.
[14] Christian Science Monitor, August 1, 1984.
[15] Wooten, p. 4.
[16] Anthony Cordesman, The Gulf and the Search for Strategic Stability (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984), p. 858.
[17] Washington Times, June 27, 1984.
[18] Cordesman, p. 832.
[19] Jane’s Defence Review 4/1 (1983).
[20] Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29, 1984.
[21] Cordesman, p. 862.
[22] New York Times, February 3, 1981.
[23] Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik (Köln), August 1984.
[24] Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 1984.
[25] Sea Power (May 1984).
[26] Cordesman, p. 438, note.
[27] Ibid., p. 815.
[28] Christian Science Monitor, August 17, 1984.
[29] Wooten, p. 9.
[30] Jane’s Defence Review 4/7 (1983).
[31] Newsweek, July 9, 1984.

How to cite this article:

Martha Wenger "Getting to the War On Time," Middle East Report 128 (November/ December 1984).

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