America’s 2018 National Security Strategy warned of a new era of “global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order — creating a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory.”
“Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security,” the Department of Defense document stated.
Today, the list of responsibilies shouldered by America’s armed forces is great — and eclectic. In places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, the U.S. military continues to fight counterinsurgency battles that date back, in their origins, to the post-9/11 “War on Terror.”
Meanwhile, U.S. military forces maintain a global footprint to deter upstart, near-peer adversaries such as China and Russia. No corner of the world is off-limits in this new era of so-called strategic competition.
From the South China Sea to the Suwalki Gap in Eastern Europe; from the Arctic Sea to the Sinai Peninsula; from Nepal’s Himalayas to the Straits of Magellan — the U.S. military maintains nonstop combat operations, training missions, and other activities to assist America’s allies and partners.
The sun never sets on America’s global military presence. And here’s a look at a few remote, and perhaps surprising, places where American personnel and hardware are currently deployed.
Sinai Peninsula, Egypt
The U.S. military maintains about 400 troops in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula as part of an international peacekeeping force to combat Islamic State militants.
Currently about 400 U.S. soldiers, mainly drawn from the National Guard, are deployed to the territory. The overall multinational force numbers some 1,156 troops from 12 other nations. The Sinai Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission was first agreed upon in 1978 during the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel. The U.S. began sending troops to the restive territory in 1981.
The U.S. troops are divided between two locations: a front-line outpost against Islamic State in the northern part of the peninsula, as well as a camp in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh.
Israel and Egypt fought over the Sinai Peninsula during the Cold War, and the original mission of the MFO was to maintain the peace. However, with the emergence of Islamic State and other terrorist groups in the region, the purpose of the U.S. troop presence has shifted to counterterrorism.
The National Guard took over the responsibility for manning the U.S. contingent to the MFO in 2002. And since that year, some 12,000 U.S. National Guard soldiers have deployed to the Sinai Peninsula.
In May, multiple news reports suggested the Pentagon was mulling whether to pull U.S. troops from the Sinai Peninsula.
During the Vietnam War, 1,973 Americans were listed as missing in Vietnam, with an additional 573 reported missing in Laos, 90 in Cambodia, and 10 in China. Of the war’s 2,646 total missing Americans, 1,060 have been repatriated.
There are still 1,246 Americans unaccounted for in Vietnam from the war. Each year, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) runs several missions to the country to search for those missing Americans.
Based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, the DPAA’s motto is “fulfilling our nation’s promise.”
The agency’s teams dig through Vietnam’s archives, conduct interviews, and scour battlefields like archaeologists. All with the hope that finding the remains of long missing American service members might give some comfort to surviving family members and honor the sacrifices of the fallen.
The DPAA was formed in 2015 to consolidate the efforts of three Department of Defense programs that searched for America’s missing from foreign wars.
In its first year, the DPAA identified 164 Americans. Followed by 201 in 2017 and 2,016 in 2018. There are currently more than 82,000 Americans still missing across the world.
This year, the DPAA had planned four missions, known as Joint Field Activities, alongside Vietnamese investigators to search for missing Americans. Due to COVID-19, however, the first Joint Field Activity in Vietnam of 2020 was canceled. The second search mission went as scheduled from February 14 through April 1 and examined sites in Quang Binh, Ha Tinh, and Quang Ninh Provinces.
Another Joint Field Activity, which lasted from May 5 to June 23, was conducted by an all-Vietnamese team for the first time ever, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Of the 196 Americans who were “last known alive” in Vietnam, 177 have been confirmed dead since the war’s end, leaving 19 cases unresolved.
U.S. Special Operations forces have conducted a long-running training program for Nepal’s military — including parachute jumps in the shadow of Mount Everest in the country’s Himalayan Khumbu region.
U.S. Army Special Forces units travel to Nepal for high-altitude mountain warfare training. It was on one of those deployments in April 2015 when disaster struck. On April 29, 2015, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake devastated much of Nepal’s Himalayan landscape. Ancient monuments in the capital city of Kathmandu were turned to rubble.
After the earthquake, the deployed Army Green Berets ditched their training and went into real-world search-and-rescue mode. Among other efforts, they performed a helicopter rescue mission in the Himalayas, saving 30 stranded trekkers, including an American named Corey Ascolani.
During the Cold War, the CIA supported Tibetan guerrillas based in Nepal’s Mustang region who were conducting cross-border raids against Chinese forces inside Tibet.
U.S. military personnel traveled to Nepal in 2017 for a humanitarian aid mission called Pacific Angel 17-4, and the U.S. military continues to conduct training missions in Nepal.
Thule Air Base, Greenland
America’s northernmost military outpost, Thule Air Base is located about 800 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the northwest coast of Greenland.
Temperatures dip to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ground is permanently frozen. The port is free of ice for only about six weeks each year, from the end of June into August, complicating the flow of supplies. During different extended periods of the year, Thule receives either 24 hours of daylight or 24 hours of night.
The base was originally built with U.S. help in World War II to defend Danish territory from Nazi Germany. Today, the base is run by U.S. Space Command. At the facility, the 12th Space Warning Squadron maintains an early warning system for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles launched from Russia.
According to media reports, Argentina gave the green light to U.S. Southern Command in July 2018 for the creation of three American bases on its territory.
One of the proposed bases was to be located in Argentina’s Misiones Province, near the country’s northern border with Brazil and Paraguay. Known as the Triple Frontier, this area is a notorious hub for the illegal drug trade. Misiones is also home to Iguazu Falls, one of the world’s largest waterfalls, and is covered by subtropical rainforest.
In 2018, Argentinians protested the construction of a U.S. base near the city of Neuquén, which is located in the country’s southwest near lucrative petroleum deposits.
The U.S. also reportedly has a base planned in the Argentinian city of Ushuaia, on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. Tierra del Fuego, which forms the southern shore of the Straits of Magellan, marks the southern end of South America and is a launching-off point for air and sea travel to Antarctica.
As of this article’s publication, the operational status of America’s bases in Argentina remains unclear. However, the U.S. footprint in the country highlights not only stepped-up U.S. counterdrug efforts during the Trump administration, but also an American push to shore up its influence on the continent amid countervailing efforts by Russia and China.
Tin City, Alaska
Just across the Bering Strait from Russia, Tin City is located at the extreme edge of Alaska’s Seward Peninsula.
Only a few dozen miles from Russian territory, this is the closest point on mainland American territory to Russia. It was also the site of a Cold War-era radar base meant to detect Russian bombers and missiles inbound to strike the U.S. homeland with nuclear weapons. There are some 15 such military radar sites across Alaska.
Today, the long-range radar at Tin City remains up and running, scouring the skies once again for the Kremlin’s missiles and warplanes as tensions between Moscow and Washington devolve to Cold War levels — and as the Arctic becomes a contested region in this modern geopolitical chess game. Air routes over Alaska and Canada would be the fastest avenue of approach for Russian warplanes to the U.S. mainland in the event of war.
Tin City began as a mining town in the early 20th century. The Arctic latitude and maritime environment combine for particularly brutal weather. With constant subzero temperatures, howling wind, and a bleak, practically black-and-white landscape, it’s a tough place to live.
Some 100 Air Force personnel were stationed at Tin City in the Cold War. Nowadays, it remains an active U.S. military installation run by a skeleton crew of contractors working for a firm called ARCTEC. U.S. Air Force aircraft service the site.