Military mystery: How many bases does the US have, anyway?

When it comes to accountability, you’d probably hope that  the US military would be rather exacting, right? Sorry. The answer to the seemingly simple question, “How many military bases does  America have outside of our own country?” is not at all simple.

In a recent article in Asia Times, investigative reporter Nick Turse calls the answer to that question, “…the one number no American knows. Not the president. Not the Pentagon. Not the experts. No one.”

You can’t get a consistent answer from news stories, that’s for sure. Recent articles, media reports and op-eds peg the number variously at 460, 507, 560, 662 and more than 1,000. Depending on whom you ask or what source you consult, writes Turse:

“there are more than 1,000 US military bases dotting the globe. To be specific, the most accurate count is 1,077. Unless it’s 1,088. Or, if you count differently, 1,169. Or even 1,180. Actually, the number might even be higher. Nobody knows for sure.”

Going straight to the source [of course, of course] doesn’t help, either. According to the Department of Defense’s 2010 Base Structure Report, as of 2009, the US military  maintained 662 foreign sites in 38 countries around the world. But that number represents a reduction from numbers reported by DOD just a few years ago.

Military spokespersons regularly add to the confusion. Turse notes that:

Speaking before the senate appropriations committee’s sub-committee on military construction, veterans and related agencies early last year, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Dorothy Robyn referenced the Pentagon’s “507 permanent installations”. The Pentagon’s 2010 Base Structure Report, on the other hand, lists 4,999 total sites in the US, its territories, and overseas.

Turse has done his homework, consulting official sources and interviewing military officials who are supposedly responsible for keeping track of these things. His account of his journey through the world of military recordkeeping reads like something straight out of Franz Kafka. Numbers vary from office to office and report to report. They go up, and they go down. They’re based on varying criteria, depending on who’s doing the counting. He ends up feeling confused and dismayed.

Along the way to [the] “final” tally, I was offered a number of explanations – from different methods of accounting to the failure of units in the field to provide accurate information – for the conflicting numbers I had been given. After months of exchanging e-mails and seeing the numbers swing wildly, ending up with roughly the same count in November as I began with in January suggests that the US command isn’t keeping careful track of the number of bases in Afghanistan. Apparently, the military simply does not know how many bases it has in its primary theater of operations.

Worse yet are the apparently deliberate omissions from the tally. “Scan the Department of Defense’s 2010 Base Structure Report for sites in Afghanistan,” writes Turse.  “Go ahead, read through all 206 pages. You won’t find a mention of them, not a citation, not a single reference, not an inkling that the United States has even one base in Afghanistan, let alone more than 400.”

Incredibly, the same blackout applies to Iraq, where published reports in mainstream media outlets put the number of bases in the 80s.  So, even the official US military tally underreports our presence by nearly 500 bases. And that’s before you add in other blacked-out sites in places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Also conveniently “forgotten” in the base count are facilities run by other countries on behalf of the US, sites operated covertly by the CIA, and de facto “bases” that float on America’s fleet of aircraft carriers, says Turse.

So, what’s the real number? We don’t know, and it seems clear that nobody is in a big hurry to tell us. Turse concludes that,

In the grand scheme of things, the actual numbers aren’t all that important. Whether the most accurate total is 900 bases, 1,000 bases or 1,100 posts in foreign lands, what’s undeniable is that the US military maintains…an empire of bases so large and shadowy that no one – not even at the Pentagon – really knows its full size and scope…An honest count of US bases abroad – a true, full and comprehensive list – would be a tiny first step in the necessary process of downsizing the global mission.

About Gloria Shur Bilchik:
Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of progressive values as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.
  • Steve Wehrly

    Fine article. Now do one on the total military/security budget spent outside the US.

  • jay rogers

    Horrifying. And no cut in defense in the 2011 budget! Can we find out how many “troops” are paid every month, or so? Maybe that would help make the case to support a cut in defense.

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  • Jeanie mceachern

    a sober and ‘sobering’ account of US military hegemony abroad. i live and have lived in many of these CIA and US military base-saturated countries, particularly throughout the middle east, and the resentment from the local citizenry is both profound and palpable. our war-mongering has decimated so many countries’ infrastructure and their helpless civilians, it defies the bounds of sanity to contemplate.

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  • John W.Glenn

    I simply cannot believe that some government office in this country cannot give me an accurate number showing how many military bases  this country now operates in foreign countries. John Glenn.     

  • lil'Ricky

    I think some of the confusion is what amount of troops would qualify as a base?
    I’m sure that in places like Afghanistan it changes daily and controlled on many different levels.  It’s called a war.  In many other countries our bases try to be low key so as not to create resentment.

  • AaronT3

    Some places are just that secret and could be a few blocks from you and you’d not even know. The main point is do we REALLY want these places on google maps?

  • David P.Curcione

    1. We Should Reduiced The Number of U.S. Military Bases in Eurpean Counties too! We Shoiuld Cut it number way down too! is 0.75% Cut the Number of U.S. Military Bases way dowen too!!!

  • Sim Lash

    It’s not about exactly where they are but how many. They can’t even say how many there are which likely means there’s very little financial oversight either. 

  • Post your best College stories

    Its really a great honour to know more things regarding the military related issues and their related work process.

  • Srthuman

    Sounds like the military is an active participant of the “occupy” movement.

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  • Daniel R Cobb

    Great article, Gloria!  Keep writing!

  • Kalkell

    How about taking military personnel from countries like England and Australia and putting them on the U.S./Mexico border?

  • Sammy

    There are only a few hundred military bases the USA maintains.  An office in a country isn’t a base.

  • Sammy

    If you join the military and have a look at all the bases in the USA and around the world you could be assigned to it would be less than 200.  BUT there are extremely small officies by the hundreds you could go to around the world with just a few people.

  • Sammy

    If you look at and decide that every place that has a military person and call it a base then you can say there are ten thousand bases we maintain!  80% or more of the real bases the USA maintains are in the USA!

    Could we save a lot of money by closing some of those foreign bases(real bases)?  You bet, I vote to close most of them.

  • Offy270jb

    where were these bases on 9/11?? what happened?? why aren’t they protecting  us?? what happened?? are they too  much involved protecting the interest of the big corporations that ship all our jobs over seas???? most americans are walking around w/ there heads up you know where.

  • Anonymous

    Then you have to believe what Eisenhower told the American people in 1962. The joint financial and political power of the Military forces and Corporations that build their weapons depend on the continued threat of outside forces. This combined effort is a greater threat to the American economy than China or the terrorists who are living in caves. The newest danger is the corporate private military forces making enormous profits with no public oversight on their military operations. This is a major point that Ron Paul brings to public discussion about the Military/Corporate complex’s power that is without any regulation or government control.
    Again, the question remains unanswered, “How many American Military bases are there worldwide by military branch?

  • Anonymous

    Another question (which has been asked by Congress) is, “How many golf courses are there on military bases that have American military personnel?” and that cannot be answered as well. Our military generals do not want the American taxpayer to known what they are doing with our money.

  • Punk Nasty

    Oh, I’m sure there are quite a few people who have a very good idea. But that is the black underworld of military classification.

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  • christopher

    What constitutes a US Military overseas base? That is the question. Could it be anything from a group of houses around a commissary (living quarters) to a fully ready operational combat force, or even a hospital location with security. I would imagine that these are the questions which make the answer difficult to determine. However, I’m sure there are many opportunities for cost reduction around the world.

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  • Anonymous

    why are there so many bases around the world? so many of the countries that have these bases don’t want them. and many of these wars aren’t wars they are conflicts started by the president. only congress can declare war and war hasn’t been declared!!!!

  • Smarter than the average bear.

    This is the biggest fallacy in this entire page.  it does not mean there is no financial oversight.  You can not make that leap from numbers of bases to budget.  It is foolish to say the least.  More importantly  just because they do not report the number to the public does not mean they do not know how many bases there are.
    As stated previously, some ways of counting will include military personnel in the embassy, it is a sight that the military maintains, but that is not a base.  IE what you count depends on who is asking, and why they are asking.  This article is such total rubbish socialist crap it is crazy. 

    She takes a slew of half truths, stitches them together, and you morons bite down and believe the crap she spews.

    “progressive” = socialist 

    Change for the sake of change is never a good thing.  Use your brains people…

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  • Professor50

    I was stationed in Vicenza, Italy. Many Italians don’t want us there. You should see the look on people’s
    faces when I tell them we are in Italy. Actually one of the biggest U.S. bases in Europe is in Italy. Americans have no idea of the scope of
    U.S. bases around the world. A very small percent of people are making
    a big profit.

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  • Marty Susman

    I’m sorry for being stupid but I just can’t understand whay all those bases have to do with protecting our own soil. Please tell me why we have bases in England, Germany, Japan & so on….
    Please tell me why we spend more money on defense then every other nation on earth COMBINED * so on….

  • Jeanie mceachern

    no worries, marty, the US will soon be bankrupt, and the over one trillion$ of our taxes that are annually gifted to the pentagon will come to a screeching halt. unfortunately, all our other essential govt. programs, such as health, education, and old age pensions, will be killed first. by the way, that trillion$+ pentagon bill doesn’t include the hundreds of billions in recondite extortion money delivered to third-world dictators in exchange for allowing our 900+ bases and other military ‘facilities’ to proliferate in their countries, nor the opaque expenditures for subversive CIA subreptions, nor the hundreds of resorts and golf courses the pentagon owns around the globe, nor the brobdingnagian cost-overuns of virtually every corporation w/ whom the pentagon ‘does business’, nor the 2.3 trillion$ that simply ‘went missing’ from the pentagon’s antediluvian and deliberately abstruse accounting system that dick cheney was compelled to publicly announce [subauditum, of course] on sept. 10, 2001, the day prior to 9/11. needless to convey, that whispered, psst-psst pronouncement to a highly select media-mouthpiece for the bush administration, received such scanty attention and was at such a diminished decibel level, it was barely audible. the next day, 9/11, that shocking pentagon audit-scandal slipped right under US taxpayers’ radar and crash-landed, w/ nary a word in the press about it thereafter. if you are interested, have a ‘coup d’oeil’ at nick turse’s outstanding research on this very subject entitled THE COMPLEX. it was published in 2008, and it is well-indexed. all of turse’s facts are heavily referenced and have been posted on the internet. be prepared to heave-up your lunch… or at least to give your gag-reflex a workout.

  • Sadsaque

     The information you added to the dialog is much appreciated, moron.

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  • LaughingTwo

    WOW – There are about 150 (71 in Germany alone) in Europe. Woulda thought they could maybe defend themselves by now. Looking for military cuts? MIGHT be a good place to start.

  • Dain Blair

    How ever many military bases we have around the world, it’s way to many and unnecessary given our national debt and yearly borrowing of $1.3 Trillion.    



  • Dagwood

    A “socialist” country you deride now enjoys the highest standard of living in the world and has the #1 rated healthcare system: France.

  • Dagwood

    We are seeking world hegemony.

  • Gerard Heck

    So how many foreign military bases are in the USA?  I did some research and I found that there are NO foreign military bases in the US.  Only US training facilities for foreign troops….so how would any American feel if there were foreign military bases in this country?  Most would not want them here….