2. Iran Loses Sleep over New US Air Base in East Afghanistan

In deep hush, the Americans are nearing completion of a spanking new underground air base in eastern Afghanistan, to be the largest facility of its kind in that part of the world. This is reported exclusively by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources.

The project coincides with US efforts to stabilize the administration of Hamid Karzai in Kabul amid reported debates over whether or not to boost the 1,000-strong US military presence in Afghanistan. It means that the Pentagon has abandoned its earlier plan to locate this important facility in the Baluchistan region of Pakistan.

The base, abutting on the southern suburbs of the Afghan Shi’ite city of Herat, is due to go operational in September as the new home of US aerial forces now scattered around the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and other locations in Afghanistan. It will also house elements of the advanced control and command center dismantled at the Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia and temporarily stored in new US bases in Qatar and Oman.

From its big new base, the operational scope of the US air force will stretch across Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea region, which is vitally important for the United States because of its oil reserves and other natural resources; Central Asia, all of Iran, the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the northern Arabian Sea up to Yemen’s Socotra Islands. The US air force will also have a commanding position in relation to Pakistan, India and the western fringes of China. The base will include a facility for US special forces units

Iranian strategists have noted that the Herat base is but a link in a formidable chain of new facilities the United States is in the process of drawing around them. Other links, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported in Issue 67, are the new air and naval facilities at Assab and Dahlak in the Eritrean archipelago and in Tiblisi, Georgia, as well as those located on Yemen’s Socotra Islands and in the Red Sea port town of Hodeidah.

American military planners are now looking at locations in Turkmenistan near the Caspian Sea. The Iranians and their intelligence services have also been keeping a close eye on the newfound German and Israeli naval and air presence in the Horn of Africa, at the meeting points of the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

One of DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources said: “It should be understood that when Iranian leaders see the map of American bases tightening around us like a noose, they are absolutely sure that Washington’s primary goal is first to strangle us, then kills us off.”

The new base at Herat has reinforced this conviction.

The men in Tehran also have a grievance. As one source put it: “First, the United States pressured us to cut down on our agents’ activities in Afghanistan so as not to threaten the stability of the Karzai government in Kabul. Now,” he complained, “It looks as though this was only an excuse to remove the thousands of Iranian agents we sent to Afghanistan to keep track of US military activities in areas Tehran views as vital to its strategic interests. With them out of the way, the Americans could go forward in the dark.”

Iran’s leaders have a bad sense of failure over their handling of the Herat base issue – in more ways than one. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Afghanistan and Iran, they counted on the local Shiite leader, Ismail Khan, standing up and drawing a line against the US military advances and spreading influence in the regions under his control. But in recent weeks, the Americans were able to mute his resistance and now have high hopes of winning him over completely.

The way Khan changed his spots may also be a side effect of the situation in Tehran. As our source in the Iranian capital put it: “Khan might not have shifted round to the American side had the Iranian government been in a stronger position, instead of hemmed in by domestic, political, military and religious troubles.” Battered as it is by domestic woes, it is the general feeling that the Iranian regime has lost the battle for Herat, a stinging defeat its first big fight with Washington.

(More on Iran’s internal weakness in fourth article in this series.)

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