Secret Expansion

Satellites Reveal Secret U.S. Bases Emerging in the Desert

Imagery from June appears to show a small airstrip in southern Syria near the border with Jordan and Iraq—that’s in addition to a drone base in northeastern Jordan and scores more.

Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

In 2013, when the United States first considered intervening in the Syria war, teams of U.S. Air Force commandos scouted out, across the Middle East, no fewer than 300 potential sites for new bases to support a possible intervention force.

Since then, the Pentagon has established or expanded scores of bases in Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, among many other countries.

Now we’ve located what appear to be another two new bases—one in Jordan near the border with Syria, and another a short distance across the same border in southern Syria. The two airstrips could support drones, helicopters, and special operations airplanes.

On July 8, 2017, the Already Happened Twitter account, which bills itself as “independent media,” pointed out satellite imagery from June 2017 that appears to show a small airstrip in southern Syria a few miles from the trinational border where Jordan, Iraq, and Syria meet.

Wikimapia satellite imagery dated 2017 doesn’t show the airstrip, implying that the facility was built in recent months. Wikimapia gets its imagery from DigitalGlobe, Airbus, and a French government imaging agency.

About a year before the new airstrip was being carved in the Syrian desert, the U.S. was hard at work expanding a separate drone base in northeastern Jordan, not far from the trinational border.

This base, known as “H4,” was originally built in 2014 or earlier and was significantly expanded in early 2016, as indicated by sensitive imagery that an intelligence source described to The Daily Beast.

In May 2017, DigitalGlobe released the first public images of H4. The site appears to support Air Force or CIA Reaper drones plus Jordanian military helicopters.

Among other facilities, Jordan is known to host a second U.S. drone base at Muwaffaq Salti, 33 miles south of the border with Syria. In November 2016, three U.S. Special Forces soldiers died when a Jordanian guard opened fire on their convoy at King Faisal Air Base in central Jordan.

The expansion of American base infrastructure makes possible the Pentagon’s escalating support for Iraqi military forces and pro-U.S. Syrian rebel groups battling the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. America’s anti-ISIS war plan builds upon initial planning that U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, completed more than three years ago.

In 2013, so-called Assault Zone Reconnaissance Teams from the Air Force branch of SOCOM scouted out around 300 landing zones, drop zones, and other sites “throughout the Middle East,” according to an official Air Force history that War Is Boring reporter Joseph Trevithick obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

“There’s a lot of work going on at SOC FWD locations,” a member of the Air Force’s 720th Special Tactics Group wrote in a 2014 email cited in the official history, using the abbreviation for “Special Operations Command, Forward.”

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The airmen said SOCOM was building bases in Yemen, Lebanon, Oman, and all the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, whose members include Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Oman.

The exact scale of U.S. base infrastructure remains secret. U.S. Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Syria, declined to confirm the existence of the two new airstrips. “We generally do not discuss the movement and position of our aircraft for safety and operational security reasons,” the Florida-based command told The Daily Beast via email.

But U.S. military fuel contracts hint at a sprawling—and likely expanding—complex of bases. A May 16, 2017, solicitation from the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, which Trevithick also obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, asks contractors to provide about 5 million gallons of fuel to U.S. bases in Jordan from late 2017 to late 2020.

The solicitation lists several bases, including Muwaffaq Salti, H4, and several unspecified “northern integration sites” that can be accessed from H4 with an official escort. “Location is an austere site,” the document explains of one integration site. “Delivery vehicle will need to be capable of traveling off-road to this location.”

One of the austere sites—which could be the new airstrip—requires a staggering 1,080,000 gallons of aviation fuel by late 2020. That’s enough to fuel up two Reaper drones every day for nearly three years.