An image circulating widely online—and notably tweeted by Elon Musk—insinuates that the United States is responsible for tensions with Iran, based on the presence of more than two dozen U.S. military bases in close proximity to the Middle Eastern country. The map, however, includes a number of inaccuracies.
According to the American Security Project, the U.S. military currently has a presence at a number of Middle Eastern bases across Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Some of these bases are marked on the map tweeted by Musk, but only at approximate locations, and most of the markers appear to have been placed entirely at random. Adm. Jim Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe, noted both to The Dispatch Fact Check and on Twitter that the U.S. does not actually own the bases depicted in the image, and instead it is granted access to select bases by allies in the region. The U.S. has usage agreements with many allies in the Middle East that allow for the military—particularly the Navy and Air Force—to access bases for purposes of maintenance, transport, and equipment storage. Some bases, such as Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, also host larger contingents of U.S. forces, as well as personnel from other American allies like the British Royal Air Force and the local nation’s military.
Notably, Musk’s map identifies multiple bases across Iran’s eastern border that simply do not exist—three in Pakistan, four in Afghanistan, and one in Turkmenistan. While the U.S. did previously maintain a heavy military presence in Afghanistan, there hasn’t been a formal U.S. presence in the country since a withdrawal orchestrated by the Biden administration in August 2021. Likewise, though the U.S. notably used the Shamsi Airfield in western Pakistan to conduct drone operations during the war on terror, the CIA vacated the area in 2011 at request of the Pakistani government. In 2022, former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan—who served between 2018 and 2022—even said that, while he was in power, he would never have agreed to requests for military bases in the country had the U.S. asked. The U.S. does not currently operate any bases in the country. About seven U.S. airmen were stationed at Turkmenistan’s Ashgabat Airport to assist with aircraft refueling during a portion of the Afghanistan War, but there is no U.S. military base in the country and no public evidence to suggest that any military members remain stationed there.
After receiving criticism from users for his post, Musk later responded with a second tweet claiming that the map was a joke. “This is obviously a joke meme, but there is more than a grain of truth to it,” he wrote. “We should aspire to see things from the point of view of others.”
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