Shrinking footprint, growing danger: US bases face renewed attacks

Afghanistan is often considered part of Central Asia rather than the Middle East. However, due to its geopolitical connections and similar cultural, historical, and religious ties, it is sometimes grouped with Middle Eastern countries in broader discussions about the region.

Late on Sunday (21st of April 2024), reports from Reuters and SCMP stated that Iraqi security forces noted rockets being launched from northern Iraq at a Syrian military base where US-led coalition forces are stationed.

Following the attack, Iraqi forces initiated a large-scale search in the northern Nineveh province and located the vehicle involved in the incident, according to their statement.

Nineveh Province is a region in northern Iraq, known historically for containing the ancient city of Nineveh. This area is significant for its rich history and has been a focal point for various military and political activities in modern times. This is the first significant assault on coalition forces in a number of weeks.

This incident occurred just days after Israel allegedly retaliated against an Iranian attack with a drone strike on Iran, during a period of heightened tensions due to the conflict in Gaza. The attack coincided with the day Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani returned from the United States, where he had met with President Joe Biden at the White House.

According to Reuters, as noted by SCMP, the Iraqi security forces issued a statement accusing “outlaw elements” of attacking an international coalition base with rockets inside Syrian territory around 9:50 pm. The statement also mentioned that the security forces destroyed the vehicle used in the attack. Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that multiple rockets were launched from Iraqi territory at the Kharab al-Jir base in northeast Syria, where US forces are based, according to Reuters.

He blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iran-supported factions, for orchestrating the attack. This group has taken responsibility for the majority of attacks on US forces from mid-October to early February. After a winter marked by rocket attacks and drone strikes from pro-Iran groups on US troops in the Middle East, there was a period of relative quiet. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq stated that its actions were in support of Palestinians and as a protest against US backing of Israel in the Gaza conflict.

On January 28, a drone attack on a military outpost in Jordan, known as Tower 22, resulted in the deaths of three US soldiers and injuries to many others. This outpost is just one of several US bases in the Middle East.

In retaliation, the US military targeted numerous locations in Syria and Iraq associated with pro-Iran forces, which led to criticism from both countries’ governments.

Here’s an overview of the US military’s presence in the Middle East, including the locations of American bases throughout the region:

The Middle East includes the following countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen.

Afghanistan is often considered part of Central Asia rather than the Middle East. However, due to its geopolitical connections and similar cultural, historical, and religious ties, it is sometimes grouped with Middle Eastern countries in broader discussions about the region.

The US has maintained bases across the Middle East for many years. At the height of its presence, there were over 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan in 2011 and more than 160,000 personnel in Iraq during 2007. After the US withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, the number of troops stationed in the region decreased significantly, but over 30,000 US troops remain dispersed throughout the Middle East. Additionally, since the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza conflict in October, the US has deployed thousands more troops temporarily to the area, including on naval vessels.

Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, established in 1996, is the largest US base in the Middle East. The US also maintains a military presence in several other countries in the region, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In Syria, the U.S. has about 900 troops stationed primarily in the northeast, at smaller bases such as the al Omar Oil Field and al-Shaddadi. Additionally, there’s a modest outpost at Al Tanf garrison, located near the country’s borders with Iraq and Jordan. In Iraq, 2,500 U.S. personnel are distributed across various locations, including Union III and Ain al-Asad Air Base. Discussions about the future presence of these troops are currently ongoing.

U.S. troops are stationed in the Middle East for various reasons and, except in Syria, they are present with the consent of each host country’s government.

In countries like Iraq and Syria, U.S. troops are deployed to combat Islamic State militants and assist in training local forces. However, over the past few years, they have faced attacks from Iran-supported groups and have responded to these threats.

Jordan, an important regional ally of the U.S., hosts hundreds of American trainers who conduct extensive exercises there throughout the year.

In countries like Qatar and the UAE, U.S. troops are stationed to reassure allies, conduct training, and support regional operations as needed.

Are there foreign military bases in the US ?

While allies of the U.S. occasionally send their troops to America for training or collaborative exercises, there are no foreign military bases on U.S. soil.

Tower 22

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Tower 22, the site of the drone attack on January 28th that killed three Army Reserve soldiers, is strategically located in Jordan at the northeasternmost point where the country’s borders converge with Syria and Iraq. Tower 22 is close to the Al Tanf garrison across the border in Syria, where a small contingent of U.S. troops is based. Al Tanf has been crucial in the battle against the Islamic State and plays a part in the U.S. strategy to counter Iran’s military expansion in eastern Syria.

Do US bases in the regions get attacked often?

U.S. bases are heavily secured, equipped with air defense systems to fend off missile or drone attacks. Bases located in countries such as Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait typically do not experience attacks. Since October 7, a new outbreak of violence has occurred in the Middle East, initiated when fighters from the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas entered Israel, killed 1,200 Israelis, and took another 253 hostage.

In retaliation, Israel launched a military offensive that resulted in over 33,000 deaths and triggered a severe humanitarian crisis in the densely populated Gaza Strip.

(Views expressed in the article are of author’s own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Business Upturn)