The Defense Department is requesting $131 million in its fiscal year 2011 budget to upgrade Shindand Air Base so it can accommodate more commando helicopters, drone surveillance aircraft, fuel and munitions.
Plans to expand the base come as the U.S. works to strengthen the militaries and missile defenses of allies in the region and presses at the United Nations for a new round of sanctions aimed at forcing Iran to curb its nuclear program.
U.S. military officials say the base is only to support U.S. and Afghan military operations in Afghanistan. Iran will likely view the Shindand buildup as another step to squeeze it, said Kenneth Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“Whatever U.S. intentions, the Iranian regime will see it as a threat -- as another American effort to surround Iran with U.S. military forces,” Pollack said in an interview.
“The Iranians are almost certainly going to assume that a beefed-up intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance presence is really about spying on them,” he said.
Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, shares that view.
“The positioning of the base gives us the opportunity to monitor any efforts by Iran to serve as a sanctuary for anti- government Taliban and allied forces, and to support operations in Iran itself if that were to become necessary,” he said.
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