has turned a minor naval station in the Persian Gulf, into one of its most
crucial bases for the war on terrorism. The U.S. moved into a minor naval base
in Bahrain in 1973, when the British gave it up. The Bahrainis, like most of
the other small states along the west coast of the Persian Gulf, liked to have
some friendly Western power in residence. This provided some insurance against
Saudi Arabia to the west, and Iran to the east. Before 1918, it helped keep the
Ottoman Empire off their backs as well. All the Bahrainis ask is that the
foreign troops be quiet, and discreet. Until 2002, the Bahraini base was a
place where U.S. warships could tie up for repairs, or recreation for the
crews. About 3,600 American military personnel were stationed there. There was
an airbase for navy and air force transports and warplanes. The Bahrainis
denied much of this activity, so as to avoid getting pilloried by other Arab
states. But Bahrain is a small place (a 655 square kilometer island about 20
kilometers off the Saudi coast, and a population of about 700,000), and it's
difficult for things like warships and warplanes to go unnoticed.
In the last two years, the
number of American military personnel has more than doubled, and several
hundred million dollars has gone into building more permanent facilities. The
trailers and other "temporary structures" are being replaced more permanent
buildings and facilities. This includes a new pier, just for military ships.
There is a shopping center just for the military, and a lot of recreational
facilities for the troops. Until 2004, some troops could bring their families.
But now it's all military, and the brass try to keep everyone happy on base.
It's a one year tour for most, but Bahrain is pretty popular. Living conditions
are good, and the local Bahranis are pretty mellow and friendly by Middle