Pentagon to dramatically beef up forces on Guam as part of ‘Asian pivot’

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 by

( The Defense Department has major plans to dramatically upgrade its military facilities on Guam, to include thousands of Marines along with stores of tanks and other weapons, McClatchy Papers reported.

The transfer of Marines and their equipment is slated to take place over the next two years, provided Pentagon officials can work out some details with inhabitants of nearby islands, where troops would need to train and prepare for war and other missions.

Improvements to Guam have already begun, to include a newly rebuilt hardened pier in a sheltered Pacific harbor designed to carry waves of troops and tanks.

“We’re ready for them,” Cmdr. David Ellis, the executive officer at a Navy base that’s been swelling with military construction projects to prepare for the new troops, told McClatchy. But it is not yet certain what the Marines – 4,800 of them – will be permitted to do once they arrive.

As McClatchy reported further:

The trouble is the Pentagon has not yet persuaded two nearby islands to accept a proposal that would give the Marines a space to train during their Pacific patrols. And some are suggesting, subtly, that it may be difficult to station so many military service members on Guam if they cannot train nearby.

On one island, Tinian, a Marine plan to practice ground maneuvers is setting off fears that the sounds of mortars and rocket blasts will quash a budding Chinese-backed tourism-casino industry. The companies behind the casinos have been hinting they’d pull out if the Marine proposal becomes a reality.

On the other island, Pagan, Defense officials have proposed to build a massive international military training zone on an island renowned for its namesake volcano, but that, too, is meeting resistance from people who want to return to it 30 years after an eruption forced them to leave.

Both of the islands are governed by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which is a separate U.S. territory that underscored its concerns after hiring an attorney who is well known for fighting the Pentagon’s Pacific-oriented expansion plans.

“Having a place to fire cannons and practice obviously is essential, but this just isn’t the right place,” attorney Nick Yost, of San Francisco, told McClatchy.

The Pentagon wants to transform Guam and the Mariana Islands into a larger military hub because they are U.S. territories and Defense Department officials won’t have to worry about a foreign government reneging on a partnership with the U.S. military.

Military planners have been concerned about that since the Philippine government kicked the U.S. Navy out of Subic Bay in 1992.

The Guam and Marianas site, if plans move forward, will house a large military training area that can be utilized by all branches of the U.S. military and its Pacific allies. It would be located adjacent to the Navy’s undersea training ranch in the Mariana trench, and would provide “a rare location for the military to integrate sea and land warfare,” McClatchy reported.

Also, the Pentagon would be able to reduced its footprint on the Japanese island of Okinawa, where a number of Marine bases has caused a public backlash in recent decades.

Japan is paying for more than one-third of the estimated $8.7 billion cost to construct the new Marine facilities. Also, Japan would probably participate in training exercises held in their. Marines on Guam would also respond to any disasters or emergencies involving Japan, which is about 1,400 miles to the west. The U.S. seized the territories from Japan during World War II.

Residents of the area, however, are largely opposed to the new development. But the military controls about one-quarter of the Marianas’ 212 square miles, where there is already a sprawling U.S. Navy base that has accommodations for several submarines and special operations teams. Also, an Air Force base housing a bomber group is stationed there.

Alternative Pacific training sites for the U.S. military could be Australia or the Philippines, and local officials hope the Pentagon will closely examine those options before settling on Tinian and Pagan.

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