By Walter Pincus
Monday, May 5, 2008
The United States is moving south in Iraq, planning to upgrade facilities at Camp Delta and the Al Kut Air Base, which is about 140 miles southeast of Baghdad and just 35 miles from the Iranian border.
The base, which is about 37 square miles, is to be elevated from a contingency operating base to a strategic overwatch base, according to Navy Lt. David Russell, a press officer for Multi-National Forces-Iraq.
There has been no public announcement. But two weeks ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers posted modifications to an earlier notice that disclosed it is seeking construction companies or joint ventures interested in bidding to design and build two "life support areas" at Camp Delta -- one to house 2,000 troops and the other 4,000.
In a second notice, the Corps is seeking construction firms to build a large dining facility, gymnasium and post exchange -- with room for four food-court vendors -- at Camp Delta.
The Corps said the estimated cost for designing and building the housing is "more than $10 million," as is the estimate for the dining hall, gymnasium and post exchange.
Camp Delta has always housed some U.S. troops. But it has been home primarily to units from countries that have been part of the Multi-National Division Central-South under a Polish general for nearly the past five years.
The Polish forces once totaled 2,500 members of the 9,000-person multinational division, but they are down to 900 and are scheduled to leave Iraq at the end of October.
Other units at Camp Delta at one time were made up of Ukrainians, Salvadorans and Romanians. The base has housed an Iraqi training school for police and military, and has been used to carry out human and signal intelligence as well as serving as a launching point for unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles, according to intelligence sources.
While neither U.S. military or intelligence sources will talk about activities on a base located so close to Iran, a report written by Derrin Ray Smith of the University of Denver's Graduate School of International Studies, who visited Camp Delta in 2004, does describe what he observed of the Romanian troops' intelligence capabilities.
A professor of terrorism and international security threats, Smith wrote: "The local military intelligence group, under the hospitable command of Commander Liviu-Teodor Isache, has deployed on site some advanced imagery capabilities. . . . In addition to the human and signals intelligence units, his organization includes a high tech addition to the Romanian Ministry of Defense; their system of unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles ('UAVs')."
He described how the UAVs had flown missions that yielded "timely, actionable intelligence to coalition forces." Smith added, "It is secret work, with some sources and methods that must be protected."
Confirming the professor's report, Washington Post reporter Joshua Partlow last December visited Camp Delta. He wrote that the Romanians had flown more than 500 surveillance missions since 2003, including some over the Iranian border and in support of nearby coalition forces.
U.S military officers have had their eye on Camp Delta and the Al Kut Air Base for some time. The long runway on the former Saddam Hussein air base and the camp's location near a main Iranian border crossing point have made it a logical place to expand the U.S. presence over the long term. There has already been work by the United States on a border-control facility.
Many of the foreign troops live in former Iraqi barracks. The proposed contractor must design and build new housing at Camp Delta that will be "containerized units" sleeping four people. The builder is also to handle "site preparation, power generation, water and electric utilities and force protection measures." The latter means, at a minimum, security fences and guard posts.
Each contractor will have a year to complete construction. With a tentative award date of July 1, the new facilities may not be ready for occupancy by U.S. troops until July 2009, at the earliest.
Russell said the proposed construction at Camp Delta is not "an attempt to build a permanent base," but rather represents "new projects" on an existing base. He added that negotiations are underway with Baghdad to establish a process for "base closures and property/real estate return to Government of Iraq" at a time when U.S. forces withdraw from facilities such as Camp Delta.
National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them firstname.lastname@example.org.