New US Air Base Nears Completion at Shiite Herat, E. Afghanistan
Notwithstanding its avowed reluctance to boost its presence in Afghanistan, the United States has launched two critical military steps:
First, A 45-man American unit, including special forces, will move into the presidential palace in Kabul and assume responsibility for Hamid Karzai’s safety. It will replace a contingent of Afghan commandos who will be sent back to base. Concern for the safety of Karzai, a linchpin of US regional interests, is acute since the recent assassination of the vice president.
Second, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported exclusively in its last issue on July 19, a spanking new American underground air base is nearing completion south of the Shiite city of Herat in western Afghanistan. To be the largest facility of its kind in that part of the world, it is scheduled to go operational in September as the new home of US aerial forces scattered around the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and other locations in Afghanistan. The base 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, as well as a US special forces position.
The big new installations will stretch the US Air force’s operational scope across Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea region – with its vital oil reserves and 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. It will also provide the US air force with a commanding position in relation to Pakistan, India and the western fringes of China. It has not been lost on Iranian strategists that the Herat base is a link in a formidable chain of new facilities the United States is in the process of drawing around their country. 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 SocotraIslands and in the Red Sea port town of Hodeidah.
Not surprisingly. the new base is causing sleepless nights in Tehran. As one source 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.”
Iran’s leaders had counted on the local Afghan Shiite leader, Ismail Khan, drawing the line against US military advances in his turf. But the speed with which he changed his spots reflects the increasing feebleness of the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran.