The October 4 killings of four US Green Berets in Niger has provided a rare glimpse into the far-reaching American military operations throughout the African continent which have been conducted almost entirely in secret.
Pentagon officials on Friday told reporters that the ambush was carried out by a self-radicalized group supposedly affiliated with ISIS. The Pentagon additionally admitted that at least 29 patrols similar to the one that was fatally ambushed have been carried out by American soldiers in Niger.
According to AFRICOM, the US military command based in Stuttgart, Germany, the US special forces deployed to Niger are tasked with providing training, logistics, and intelligence to assist the Nigerien military in fighting militants affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Mali and Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria. AFRICOM has officially stated that its forces interact with the Nigerien army in a "non-combat advisory" capacity.
The circumstances surrounding the ambush which resulted in the deaths of the four Green Berets expose AFRICOM's claim of non-engagement as a lie. The killings occurred during a joint patrol of elite American soldiers and Nigerien forces in a remote hostile region on the border with Mali known for frequent raids conducted by Islamist militants. Some 800 US commandos are deployed to bases in Niamey and Agadez making quite clear the offensive role that the American military is playing in Niger.
Underlining the incident is Niger's configuration in Washington's imperialist offensive across Africa. The expanding levels of US military forces arrayed across the continent have increasingly taken on the character of an occupying army. According to the Pentagon, there are a total of 1,000 American troops in the vicinity of the Chad River Basin which includes northern Niger, Chad, and the Central African Republic. An additional 300 troops are stationed to the south in Cameroon.
After its establishment in 2008 as an independent command, AFRICOM has significantly expanded American military influence and troop deployments on the African continent. Measuring the breadth of US military expansion is the construction of a $100 million base in Agadez in central Niger, from which the US Air Force conducts regular surveillance drone flights across the Sahel region.
Augmenting the special forces contingent in the region are military personnel stationed at several dozen bases and outposts including a US base in Garoua, Cameroon.
The special operations units in Africa have their genesis in 1980, after the Pentagon created Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to conduct a raid on the US embassy in Tehran, Iran to rescue American hostages. Over the years, SOCOM has vastly broadened its scope, and currently has forces stationed on every continent around the globe.
Made up of various units of the US military, including Green Berets, Delta Force, and Navy Seals, SOCOM carry out a broad spectrum of offensive operations including assassinations, counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, psychological operations, and foreign troop training. Under AFRICOM, these forces form a subgroup of SOCOM designated as Special Operations Command in Africa (SOCAFRICA).
Between 2006 and 2010 the deployment of US special forces troops in Africa increased 300 per cent. However, from 2010 to 2017 the numbers of deployed troops exploded by nearly 2000 per cent, occupying more than 60 outposts tasked with carrying out over 100 missions at any given moment across the continent.
The scale of the military expansion which began in earnest under the Obama administration is part of a renewed "scramble for Africa", comprised of a reckless drive for economic dominance over Africa's vast economic resources which threatens to transform the entire continent into a battlefield.
The immediate roots of the Niger ambush can be traced to the 2011 US/NATO war in Libya which resulted in the removal and assassination of Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi. Under the Obama administration, Washington cultivated and armed various Islamist militant groups with ties to Al-Qaeda as a proxy force to carry out its aim of regime change. The resulting US/NATO bombardment left Libyan society in shambles, and the Islamist fighters spilled forth and out across North Africa and south to the Sahel.
In 2012, as a consequence of a US and French backed coup against the government in Bamako, Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali took advantage of the chaos resulting from the coup to stage a rebellion. After the Tuareg militants began taking control over cities and territory as it cut deeper into southern Mali, France with the Obama administrations backing deployed 4,000 troops to the country to neutralize the Tuareg rebels, eventually stabilizing the government it placed in Bamako.
While the Tuareg rebellion may have been halted by the US-backed French offensive, Islamist fighters from Libya were pouring into Mali, with many taking up arms against the Western backed puppet government. The Islamist fighters largely united into one large group, declaring allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). The military forces of Niger and Chad which participated in the US/French intervention in Mali have become frequent targets by the Islamist militants who began conducting cross-border raids and launched attacks on patrols and garrisons.
The rise of these warring Islamist militias which have transformed West Africa into a battlefield is the end result of Washington's decades-long strategy in cultivating these forces as a proxy army in its wars for regime change, at first, in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and subsequently in Africa.
Underscoring France's military deployment are the French economic interests it seeks to protect not only Mali, but throughout West Africa, the region which was once part of its colonial empire. In Niger, the French energy giant Arven has established mining operations extracting the country's rich uranium resources.
For its part, Washington has enlisted the participation of the military forces of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Mali in its drive for dominance of the Sahel and West Africa, with all of these countries featuring US outposts or bases.
A key element of Washington's military expansion in the region are the significant economic resources that it aims to secure for American corporate interests. On behalf of these interests, and complimentary to its military operation, Washington has constructed a $300 million embassy in Niamey.
Washington's military interventions in Africa must also be seen as an effort to offset China's growing economic influence on the continent. Beijing in recent years has secured investment deals with African governments in nearly every sector of Africa's economy.
China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) purchased the permit for oil drilling in Niger's Agadem Basin, and CNPC also constructed and operates the Soraz refinery near Zinder, Niger's second largest city. Deals by Beijing for the construction of pipelines traversing through Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon are currently in the development stage, causing no small amount of consternation in Washington.
Secret US Military Documents Reveal a Constellation of American Military Bases Across Africa
Thursday, April 27, 2017
Senegalese Armed Forces soldiers attack an objective at a live fire range near Thies, Senegal, February 11, 2015. (Photo: US Army Africa)
Senegalese Armed Forces soldiers attack an objective at a live fire range near Thies, Senegal, February 11, 2015. With the Trump administration escalating its wars in Africa and the Middle East, there's every reason to believe the US military's footprint on the continent will continue to evolve, expand and enlarge in the years ahead. (Photo: US Army Africa)
General Thomas Waldhauser sounded a little uneasy. "I would just say, they are on the ground. They are trying to influence the action," commented the chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) at a Pentagon press briefing in March, when asked about Russian military personnel operating in North Africa. "We watch what they do with great concern."
And Russians aren't the only foreigners on Waldhauser's mind. He's also wary of a Chinese "military base" being built not far from Camp Lemonnier, a large U.S. facility in the tiny, sun-blasted nation of Djibouti. "They've never had an overseas base, and we've never had a base of... a peer competitor as close as this one happens to be," he said. "There are some very significant... operational security concerns."
At that press conference, Waldhauser mentioned still another base, an American one exposed by the Washington Post last October in an article titled, "U.S. has secretly expanded its global network of drone bases to North Africa." Five months later, the AFRICOM commander still sounded aggrieved. "The Washington Post story that said 'flying from a secret base in Tunisia.' It's not a secret base and it's not our base... We have no intention of establishing a base there."
Waldhauser's insistence that the U.S. had no base in Tunisia relied on a technicality, since that foreign airfield clearly functions as an American outpost. For years, AFRICOM has peddled the fiction that Djibouti is the site of its only "base" in Africa. "We continue to maintain one forward operating site on the continent, Camp Lemonnier," reads the command's 2017 posture statement. Spokespeople for the command regularly maintain that any other U.S. outposts are few and transitory -- "expeditionary" in military parlance.
While the U.S. maintains a vast empire of military installations around the world, with huge -- and hard to miss -- complexes throughout Europe and Asia, bases in Africa have been far better hidden. And if you listened only to AFRICOM officials, you might even assume that the U.S. military's footprint in Africa will soon be eclipsed by that of the Chinese or the Russians.
Highly classified internal AFRICOM files offer a radically different picture. A set of previously secret documents, obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act, offers clear evidence of a remarkable, far-ranging, and expanding network of outposts strung across the continent. In official plans for operations in 2015 that were drafted and issued the year before, Africa Command lists 36 U.S. outposts scattered across 24 African countries. These include low-profile locations -- from Kenya to South Sudan to a shadowy Libyan airfield -- that have never previously been mentioned in published reports. Today, according to an AFRICOM spokesperson, the number of these sites has actually swelled to 46, including "15 enduring locations." The newly disclosed numbers and redacted documents contradict more than a decade's worth of dissembling by U.S. Africa Command and shed new light on a constellation of bases integral to expanding U.S. military operations on the African continent and in the Middle East.
A map of U.S. military bases -- forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations -- across the African continent in 2014 from declassified AFRICOM planning documents. (Credit: Nick Turse / TomDispatch)
A map of US military bases -- forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations -- across the African continent in 2014 from declassified AFRICOM planning documents. (Credit: Nick Turse / TomDispatch)
A Constellation of Bases
AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated requests for further information about the 46 bases, outposts, and staging areas currently dotting the continent. Nonetheless, the newly disclosed 2015 plans offer unique insights into the wide-ranging network of outposts, a constellation of bases that already provided the U.S. military with unprecedented continental reach.
Those documents divide U.S. bases into three categories: forward operating sites (FOSes), cooperative security locations (CSLs), and contingency locations (CLs). "In total, [the fiscal year 20]15 proposed posture will be 2 FOSes, 10 CSLs, and 22 CLs" state the documents. By spring 2015, the number of CSLs had already increased to 11, according to then-AFRICOM chief General David Rodriguez, in order to allow U.S. crisis-response forces to reach potential hot spots in West Africa. An appendix to the plan, also obtained by TomDispatch, actually lists 23 CLs, not 22. Another appendix mentions one additional contingency location.
These outposts -- of which forward operating sites are the most permanent and contingency locations the least so -- form the backbone of U.S. military operations on the continent and have been expanding at a rapid rate, particularly since the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The plans also indicate that the U.S. military regularly juggles locations, shuttering sites and opening others, while upgrading contingency locations to cooperative security locations in response to changing conditions like, according to the documents, "increased threats emanating from the East, North-West, and Central regions" of the continent.
AFRICOM's 2017 posture statement notes, for example, a recent round of changes to the command's inventory of posts. The document explains that the U.S. military "closed five contingency locations and designated seven new contingency locations on the continent due to shifting requirements and identified gaps in our ability to counter threats and support ongoing operations." Today, according to AFRICOM spokesman Chuck Prichard, the total number of sites has jumped from the 36 cited in the 2015 plans to 46 -- a network now consisting of two forward operating sites, 13 cooperative security locations, and 31 contingency locations.
Location, Location, Location
AFRICOM's sprawling network of bases is crucial to its continent-wide strategy of training the militaries of African proxies and allies and conducting a multi-front campaign aimed at combating a disparate and spreading collection of terror groups. The command's major areas of effort involve: a shadow war against the militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia (a long-term campaign, ratcheting up in the Trump era, with no end in sight); attempts to contain the endless fallout from the 2011 U.S. and allied military intervention that ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the neutralizing of "violent extremist organizations" across northwest Africa, the lands of the Sahel and Maghreb (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the degradation of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin nations of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad (a long-term effort -- to the tune of $156 million last year alone in support of regional proxies there -- with no end in sight); countering piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (a long-term effort with no end in sight), and winding down the wildly expensive effort to eliminate Joseph Kony and his murderous Lord's Resistance Army in Central Africa (both live on, despite a long-term U.S. effort).
The U.S. military's multiplying outposts are also likely to prove vital to the Trump administration's expanding wars in the Middle East. African bases have long been essential, for instance, to Washington's ongoing shadow war in Yemen, which has seen a significant increase in drone strikes under the Trump administration. They have also been integral to operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where a substantial (and deadly) uptick in U.S. airpower (and civilian casualties) has been evident in recent months.
In 2015, AFRICOM spokesman Anthony Falvo noted that the command's "strategic posture and presence are premised on the concept of a tailored, flexible, light footprint that leverages and supports the posture and presence of partners and is supported by expeditionary infrastructure." The declassified secret documents explicitly state that America's network of African bases is neither insignificant nor provisional. "USAFRICOM's posture requires a network of enduring and non-enduring locations across the continent," say the 2015 plans. "A developed network of FOSes, CSLs, and non-enduring CLs in key countries... is necessary to support the command's operations and engagements."
According to the files, AFRICOM's two forward operating sites are Djibouti's Camp Lemonnier and a base on the United Kingdom's Ascension Island off the west coast of Africa. Described as "enduring locations" with a sustained troop presence and "U.S.-owned real property," they serve as hubs for staging missions across the continent and for supplying the growing network of outposts there.
Lemonnier, the crown jewel of America's African bases, has expanded from 88 acres to about 600 acres since 2002, and in those years, the number of personnel there has increased exponentially as well. "Camp Lemonnier serves as a hub for multiple operations and security cooperation activities," reads AFRICOM's 2017 posture statement. "This base is essential to U.S. efforts in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula." Indeed, the formerly secret documents note that the base supports "U.S operations in Somalia CT [counterterrorism], Yemen CT, Gulf of Aden (counter-piracy), and a wide range of Security Assistance activities and programs throughout the region."
In 2015, when he announced the increase in cooperative security locations, then-AFRICOM chief David Rodriguez mentioned Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon as staging areas for the command's rapid reaction forces. Last June, outgoing U.S. Army Africa commander Major General Darryl Williams drew attention to a CSL in Uganda and one being set up in Botswana, adding, "We have very austere, lean, lily pads, if you will, all over Africa now."
CSL Entebbe in Uganda has, for example, long been an important air base for American forces in Africa, serving as a hub for surveillance aircraft. It also proved integral to Operation Oaken Steel, the July 2016 rapid deployment of troops to the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan, as that failed state (and failed U.S. nation-building effort) sank into yet more violence.
Libreville, Gabon, is listed in the documents as a "proposed CSL," but was actually used in 2014 and 2015 as a key base for Operation Echo Casemate, the joint U.S.-French-African military response to unrest in the Central African Republic.
AFRICOM's 2015 plan also lists cooperative security locations in Accra, Ghana; Gaborone, Botswana; Dakar, Senegal; Douala, Cameroon; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and Mombasa, Kenya. While officially defined by the military as temporary locales capable of being scaled up for larger operations, any of these CSLs in Africa "may also function as a major logistics hub," according to the documents.
The formerly secret AFRICOM files note that the command has designated five contingency locations as "semi-permanent," 13 as "temporary," and four as "initial." These include a number of sites that have never previously been disclosed, including outposts in several countries that were actually at war when the documents were created. Listed among the CLs, for instance, is one in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, already in the midst of an ongoing civil war in 2014; one in Bangui, the capital of the periodically unstable Central African Republic; and another in Al-Wigh, a Saharan airfield in southern Libya located near that country's borders with Niger, Chad, and Algeria.
Officially classified as "non-enduring" locations, CLs are nonetheless among the most integral sites for U.S. operations on the continent. Today, according to AFRICOM's Prichard, the 31 contingency locations provide "access to support partners, counter threats, and protect U.S. interests in East, North, and West Africa."
AFRICOM did not provide the specific locations of the current crop of CLs, stating only that they "strive to increase access in crucial areas." The 2015 plans, however, provide ample detail on the areas that were most important to the command at that time. One such site is Camp Simba in Manda Bay, Kenya, also mentioned in a 2013 internal Pentagon study on secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. At least two manned surveillance aircraft were based there at the time.
Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti is also mentioned in AFRICOM's 2015 plan. Once a spartan French Foreign Legion post, it has undergone substantial expansion in recent years as U.S. drone operations in that country were moved from Camp Lemonnier to this more remote location. It soon became a regional hub for unmanned aircraft not just for Africa but also for the Middle East. By the beginning of October 2015, for example, drones flown from Chabelley had already logged more than 24,000 hours of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions and were also, according to the Air Force, "responsible for the neutralization of 69 enemy fighters, including five high-valued individuals" in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
AFRICOM's inventory of CLs also includes sites in Nzara, South Sudan; Arlit, Niger; both Bamako and Gao, Mali; Kasenyi, Uganda; Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles; Monrovia, Liberia; Ouassa and Nema, Mauritania; Faya Largeau, Chad; Bujumbura, Burundi; Lakipia, the site of a Kenyan Air Force base; and another Kenyan airfield at Wajir that was upgraded and expanded by the U.S. Navy earlier in this decade, as well as an outpost in Arba Minch, Ethiopia, that was reportedly shuttered in 2015 after nearly five years of operation.
A longtime contingency location in Niamey, the capital of Niger, has seen marked growth in recent years as has a more remote location, a Nigerien military base at Agadez, listed among the "proposed" CSLs in the AFRICOM documents. The U.S. is, in fact, pouring $100 million into building up the base, according to a 2016 investigation by the Intercept. N'Djamena, Chad, the site of yet another "proposed CSL," has actually been used by the U.S. military for years. Troops and a drone were dispatched there in 2014 to aid in operations against Boko Haram and "base camp facilities" were constructed there, too.
The list of proposed CLs also includes sites in Berbera, a town in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, and in Mogadishu, the capital of neighboring Somalia (another locale used by American troops for years), as well as the towns of Baidoa and Bosaso. These or other outposts are likely to play increasingly important roles as the Trump administration ramps up its military activities in Somalia, the long-failed state that saw 18 U.S. personnel killed in the disastrous "Black Hawk Down" mission of 1993. Last month, for instance, President Trump relaxed rules aimed at preventing civilian casualties when the U.S. conducts drone strikes and commando raids in that country and so laid the foundation for a future escalation of the war against al-Shabaab there. This month, AFRICOM confirmed that dozens of soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division, a storied light infantry unit, would be deployed to that same country in order to train local forces to, as a spokesperson put it, "better fight" al-Shabaab.
Many other sites previously identified as U.S. outposts or staging areas are not listed in AFRICOM's 2015 plans, such as bases in Djema, Sam Ouandja, and Obo in the Central African Republic that were revealed, in recent years, by the Washington Post. Also missing is a newer drone base in Garoua, Cameroon, not to mention that Tunisian air base where the U.S. has been flying drones, according to AFRICOM's Waldhauser, "for quite some time."
Some bases may have been shuttered, while others may not yet have been put in service when the documents were produced. Ultimately, the reasons that these and many other previously identified bases are not included in the redacted secret files are unclear due to AFRICOM's refusal to offer comment, clarification, or additional information on the locations of its bases.
"Just as the U.S. pursues strategic interests in Africa, international competitors, including China and Russia, are doing the same," laments AFRICOM in its 2017 posture statement. "We continue to see international competitors engage with African partners in a manner contrary to the international norms of transparency."
Since it was established as an independent command in 2008, however, AFRICOM itself has been anything but transparent about its activities on the continent. The command's physical footprint may, in fact, have been its most jealously guarded secret. Today, thanks to AFRICOM's own internal documents, that secret is out and with AFRICOM's admission that it currently maintains "15 enduring locations," the long-peddled fiction of a combatant command with just one base in its area of operations has been laid to rest.
"Because of the size of Africa, because of the time and space and the distances, when it comes to special crisis-response-type activities, we need access in various places on the continent," said AFRICOM chief Waldhauser during his March press conference. These "various places" have also been integral to escalating American shadow wars, including a full-scale air campaign against the Islamic State in Libya, dubbed Operation Odyssey Lightning, which ended late last year, and ongoing intelligence-gathering missions and a continued U.S. troop presence in that country; drone assassinations and increased troop deployments in Somalia to counter al-Shabaab; and increasing engagement in a proxy war against Boko Haram militants in the Lake Chad region of Central Africa. For these and many more barely noticed U.S. military missions, America's sprawling, ever-expanding network of bases provides the crucial infrastructure for cross-continental combat by U.S. and allied forces, a low-profile support system for war-making in Africa and beyond.
Without its wide-ranging constellation of bases, it would be nearly impossible for the U.S. to carry out ceaseless low-profile military activities across the continent. As a result, AFRICOM continues to prefer shadows to sunlight. While the command provided figures on the total number of U.S. military bases, outposts, and staging areas in Africa, its spokespeople failed to respond to repeated requests to provide locations for any of the 46 current sites. While the whereabouts of the new outposts may still be secret, there's little doubt as to the trajectory of America's African footprint, which has increased by 10 locations -- a 28% jump -- in just over two years.
America's "enduring" African bases "give the United States options in the event of crisis and enable partner capacity building," according to AFRICOM's Chuck Prichard. They have also played a vital role in conflicts from Yemen to Iraq, Nigeria to Somalia. With the Trump administration escalating its wars in Africa and the Middle East, and the potential for more crises -- from catastrophic famines to spreading wars -- on the horizon, there's every reason to believe the U.S. military's footprint on the continent will continue to evolve, expand, and enlarge in the years ahead, outpost by outpost and base by base.
The U.S. has military bases in at least 45 less-than-democratic countries.
Much outrage has been expressed in recent weeks over President Donald Trump's invitation for a White House visit to Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, whose "war on drugs" has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings.
Criticism of Trump was especially intense given his similarly warm public support for other authoritarian rulers like Egypt's Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (who visited the Oval Office to much praise only weeks earlier), Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who got a congratulatory phone call from President Trump on his recent referendum victory, granting him increasingly unchecked powers), and Thailand's Prayuth Chan-ocha (who also received a White House invitation).
But here's the strange thing: the critics generally ignored the far more substantial and long-standing bipartisan support U.S. presidents have offered these and dozens of other repressive regimes over the decades.
After all, such autocratic countries share one striking thing in common.
They are among at least 45 less-than-democratic nations and territories that today host scores of U.S. military bases, from ones the size of not-so-small American towns to tiny outposts.
Together, these bases are homes to tens of thousands of U.S. troops.
To ensure basing access from Central America to Africa, Asia to the Middle East, U.S. officials have repeatedly collaborated with fiercely anti-democratic regimes and militaries implicated in torture, murder, the suppression of democratic rights, the systematic oppression of women and minorities, and numerous other human rights abuses.
Forget the recent White House invitations and Trump's public compliments.
For nearly three quarters of a century, the United States has invested tens of billions of dollars in maintaining bases and troops in such repressive states.
From Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have, since World War II, regularly shown a preference for maintaining bases in undemocratic and often despotic states, including Spain under Generalissimo Francisco Franco, South Korea under Park Chung-hee, Bahrain under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and Djibouti under four-term President Ismail Omar Guelleh, to name just four.
Many of the 45 present-day undemocratic U.S. base hosts qualify as fully "authoritarian regimes," according to the Economist Democracy Index.
In such cases, American installations and the troops stationed on them are effectively helping block the spread of democracy in countries like Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kuwait, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
This pattern of daily support for dictatorship and repression around the world should be a national scandal in a country supposedly committed to democracy.
It should trouble Americans ranging from religious conservatives and libertarians to leftists -- anyone, in fact, who believes in the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
After all, one of the long-articulated justifications for maintaining military bases abroad has been that the U.S. military's presence protects and spreads democracy.
Far from bringing democracy to these lands, however, such bases tend to provide legitimacy for and prop up undemocratic regimes of all sorts, while often interfering with genuine efforts to encourage political and democratic reform.
The silencing of the critics of human rights abuses in base hosts like Bahrain, which has violently cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators since 2011, has left the United States complicit in these states' crimes.
During the Cold War, bases in undemocratic countries were often justified as the unfortunate but necessary consequence of confronting the "communist menace" of the Soviet Union.
But here's the curious thing: in the quarter century since the Cold War ended with that empire's implosion, few of those bases have closed.
Today, while a White House visit from an autocrat may generate indignation, the presence of such installations in countries run by repressive or military rulers receives little notice at all.
The 45 nations and territories with little or no democratic rule represent more than half of the roughly 80 countries now hosting U.S. bases (who often lack the power to ask their "guests" to leave).
They are part of a historically unprecedented global network of military installations the United States has built or occupied since World War II.
Today, while there are no foreign bases in the United States, there are around 800 U.S. bases in foreign countries.
That number was recently even higher, but it still almost certainly represents a record for any nation or empire in history.
More than 70 years after World War II and 64 years after the Korean War, there are, according to the Pentagon, 181 U.S. "base sites" in Germany, 122 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea.
Hundreds more dot the planet from Aruba to Australia, Belgium to Bulgaria, Colombia to Qatar.
Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, civilians, and family members occupy these installations.
By my conservative estimate, to maintain such a level of bases and troops abroad, U.S. taxpayers spend at least $150 billion annually -- more than the budget of any government agency except the Pentagon itself.
For decades, leaders in Washington have insisted that bases abroad spread our values and democracy -- and that may have been true to some extent in occupied Germany, Japan, and Italy after World War II.
However, as base expert Catherine Lutz suggests, the subsequent historical record shows that "gaining and maintaining access for U.S. bases has often involved close collaboration with despotic governments."
The bases in the countries whose leaders President Trump has recently lauded illustrate the broader pattern.
The United States has maintained military facilities in the Philippines almost continuously since seizing that archipelago from Spain in 1898.
It only granted the colony independence in 1946, conditioned on the local government's agreement that the U.S. would retain access to more than a dozen installations there.
After independence, a succession of U.S. administrations supported two decades of Ferdinand Marcos's autocratic rule, ensuring the continued use of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, two of the largest U.S. bases abroad.
After the Filipino people finally ousted Marcos in 1986 and then made the U.S. military leave in 1991, the Pentagon quietly returned in 1996.
With the help of a "visiting forces agreement" and a growing stream of military exercises and training programs, it began to set up surreptitious, small-scale bases once more.
A desire to solidify this renewed base presence, while also checking Chinese influence, undoubtedly drove Trump's recent White House invitation to Duterte.
It came despite the Filipino president's record of joking about rape, swearing he would be "happy to slaughter" millions of drug addicts just as "Hitler massacred [six] million Jews," and bragging, "I don't care about human rights."
In Turkey, President Erdogan's increasingly autocratic rule is only the latest episode in a pattern of military coups and undemocratic regimes interrupting periods of democracy.
U.S. bases have, however, been a constant presence in the country since 1943.
They repeatedly caused controversy and sparked protest -- first throughout the 1960s and 1970s, before the Bush administration's 2003 invasion of Iraq, and more recently after U.S. forces began using them to launch attacks in Syria.
Although Egypt has a relatively small U.S. base presence, its military has enjoyed deep and lucrative ties with the U.S. military since the signing of the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1979.
After a 2013 military coup ousted a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government, the Obama administration took months to withhold some forms of military and economic aid, despite more than 1,300 killings by security forces and the arrest of more than 3,500 members of the Brotherhood.
According to Human Rights Watch, "Little was said about ongoing abuses," which have continued to this day.
In Thailand, the U.S. has maintained deep connections with the Thai military, which has carried out 12 coups since 1932.
Both countries have been able to deny that they have a basing relationship of any sort, thanks to a rental agreement between a private contractor and U.S. forces at Thailand's Utapao Naval Air Base.
"Because of [contractor] Delta Golf Global," writes journalist Robert Kaplan, "the U.S. military was here, but it was not here. After all, the Thais did no business with the U.S. Air Force. They dealt only with a private contractor."
Elsewhere, the record is similar.
In monarchical Bahrain, which has had a U.S. military presence since 1949 and now hosts the Navy's 5th Fleet, the Obama administration offered only the most tepid criticism of the government despite an ongoing, often violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
According to Human Rights Watch and others (including an independent commission of inquiry appointed by the Bahraini king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa), the government has been responsible for widespread abuses including the arbitrary arrest of protesters, ill treatment during detention, torture-related deaths, and growing restrictions on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly.
The Trump administration has already signaled its desire to protect the military-to-military ties of the two countries by approving a sale of F-16 fighters to Bahrain without demanding improvements in its human rights record.
And that's typical of what base expert Chalmers Johnson once called the American "baseworld."
Research by political scientist Kent Calder confirms what's come to be known as the "dictatorship hypothesis": "The United States tends to support dictators [and other undemocratic regimes] in nations where it enjoys basing facilities."
Another large-scale study similarly shows that autocratic states have been "consistently attractive" as base sites.
"Due to the unpredictability of elections," it added bluntly, democratic states prove "less attractive in terms [of] sustainability and duration."
Even within what are technically U.S. borders, democratic rule has regularly proved "less attractive" than preserving colonialism into the twenty-first century.
The presence of scores of bases in Puerto Rico and the Pacific island of Guam has been a major motivation for keeping these and other U.S. "territories" -- American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- in varying degrees of colonial subordination.
Conveniently for military leaders, they have neither full independence nor the full democratic rights that would come with incorporation into the U.S. as states, including voting representation in Congress and the presidential vote.
Installations in at least five of Europe's remaining colonies have proven equally attractive, as has the base that U.S. troops have forcibly occupied in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since shortly after the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Authoritarian rulers tend to be well aware of the desire of U.S. officials to maintain the status quo when it comes to bases. As a result, they often capitalize on a base presence to extract benefits or help ensure their own political survival.
The Philippines' Marcos, former South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee, and more recently Djibouti's Ismail Omar Guelleh have been typical in the way they used bases to extract economic assistance from Washington, which they then lavished on political allies to shore up their power.
Others have relied on such bases to bolster their international prestige and legitimacy or to justify violence against domestic political opponents.
After the 1980 Kwangju massacre in which the South Korean government killed hundreds, if not thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators, strongman General Chun Doo-hwan explicitly cited the presence of U.S. bases and troops to suggest that his actions enjoyed Washington's support.
Whether or not that was true is still a matter of historical debate.
What's clear, however, is that American leaders have regularly muted their criticism of repressive regimes lest they imperil bases in these countries.
In addition, such a presence tends to strengthen military, rather than civilian, institutions in countries because of the military-to-military ties, arms sales, and training missions that generally accompany basing agreements.
Meanwhile, opponents of repressive regimes often use the bases as a tool to rally nationalist sentiment, anger, and protest against both ruling elites and the United States.
That, in turn, tends to fuel fears in Washington that a transition to democracy might lead to base eviction, often leading to a doubling down on support for undemocratic rulers. The result can be an escalating cycle of opposition and U.S.-backed repression.
While some defend the presence of bases in undemocratic countries as necessary to deter "bad actors" and support "U.S. interests" (primarily corporate ones), backing dictators and autocrats frequently leads to harm not just for the citizens of host nations but for U.S. citizens as well.
The base build-up in the Middle East has proven the most prominent example of this.
Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution, which both unfolded in 1979, the Pentagon has built up scores of bases across the Middle East at a cost of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars.
According to former West Point professor Bradley Bowman, such bases and the troops that go with them have been a "major catalyst for anti-Americanism and radicalization."
Research has similarly revealed a correlation between the bases and al-Qaeda recruitment.
Most catastrophically, outposts in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan have helped generate and fuel the radical militancy that has spread throughout the Greater Middle East and led to terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States.
The presence of such bases and troops in Muslim holy lands was, after all, a major recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and part of Osama bin Laden's professed motivation for the 9/11 attacks.
With the Trump administration seeking to entrench its renewed base presence in the Philippines and the president commending Duterte and similarly authoritarian leaders in Bahrain and Egypt, Turkey and Thailand, human rights violations are likely to escalate, fueling unknown brutality and baseworld blowback for years to come.
David Vine is associate professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia. He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and Mother Jones, among other publications. His new book, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, will appear in 2015 as part of the American Empire Project (Metropolitan Books). For more of his writing, visit www.davidvine.net.