From Thu May 17 07:23:34 2001
Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 23:27:39 -0500 (CDT)
From: contracorriente <>
Subject: The Underground Military
Article: 120178
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

The Underground Military

By William M. Arkin, Washinton Post, Monday 7 May 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 Rico.

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 Bahamas.

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?