The US is sending more troops to the Middle East. Where in the world are US military deployed?

illustration with globe
Illustration by Elizabeth Sokolich


Posted October 25, 2023 | Updated on Apr 05, 2024

In short: Iran’s foreign minister warned the Israeli government to stop airstrikes on the Gaza Strip or else “anything is possible at any moment and the region will go out of control.” In response, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced, in a statement, the deployment of more U.S. military to the region. In 2022, there were about 170,000 troops stationed outside of the U.S. and its territories – as of June 2023, there were over 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East alone.

Where are U.S. military stationed around the world?

While the U.S. boosts its military presence in the Middle East, it maintains troops on every continent.

As of September 2022, there are 171,736 active-duty military troops across 178 countries, with the most in Japan (53,973), Germany (35,781), and South Korea (25,372). These three countries also have the most U.S. military bases – 120, 119, and 73, respectively.  

There are around 750 U.S. military bases in at least 80 countries, though Al Jazeera says the number “may be even higher as not all data is published by the Pentagon.”  

Many U.S. military bases were built after World War II “when the U.S. took position as the global leader and peacekeeper in and around Japan and Germany,” which explains why those two countries have the most bases. Then the Cold War and the Korean War gave the U.S. another reason for global military expansion – to contain communism.

The U.S. has since expanded into the Middle East and surrounding area – Turkey, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia each have at least 10 bases.

From October 2001 through September 2020, U.S. taxpayers paid $6.4 trillion to the federal government that went to wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan. In the post-9/11 years through 2022, the Department of Defense also received an $884 billion increase to its baseline budget.  

In 2022, the U.S. spent $877 billion on its military – the most of any country, and more than China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, the U.K., Germany, France, South Korea, Japan, and Ukraine combined. This figure includes $19.9 billion in military aid to Ukraine, according to the report.

The U.S. spends $2,169 on the military per person, according to NATO data. In total, the U.S. spends about 12% of all its spending on the military, compared to China’s 4.79%.

Historically, the U.S. has used promoting democracy as justification for its far-reaching military network, although U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East also has been “an underlying motive for direct military intervention or meddling in political development,” according to the Global Policy Forum.

How have U.S. military deployments and bases changed this year?

As tensions ramp up in the Middle East and the South China Sea, the U.S. has upped its military presence in these regions.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that led to an Israeli siege on Gaza, the U.S. has sent military support to Israel and deployed more to the Middle East generally.

On Oct. 8, Austin announced that he ordered the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, the Navy’s “newest and most advanced aircraft carrier,” to move into the region and be ready to aid Israel.

In the wake of Hamas’ initial attack and the Israeli blockade on Gaza that lasted for over two weeks, Israel is preparing for a ground invasion. Iran has alluded to stepping in to support Hamas if the ground offensive starts.

Iran asks other countries to stop weapons transfers to Israel

The Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar has become a point of tension in the Israel-Hamas war, as Iran urges other countries in the region to stop weapons transfers from the U.S. to Israel that use U.S. bases as waypoints. 

Al-Udeid Air Base is the biggest U.S. military base in the Middle East, with space for 10,000 military personnel. It hosts the U.S. Air Forces Central Command and four other command centers. The air base is owned by Qatar, which released a statement saying Israel is “solely responsible for the ongoing escalation due to its continuous violations of the rights of the Palestinian people…”

In April 2022, the U.S. officially designated Qatar a “major non-NATO” ally, which meant certain “privileges” like assisting military training and weapons transfers.

Tensions are spreading in the Middle East, and there has been “a wave of attacks” on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria that injured 24 U.S. troops.

Austin announced on Oct. 21 that another aircraft carrier would be sent to the same area as the Eisenhower, and military units would be sent throughout the Middle East to “bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for U.S. forces in the region, and assist in the defense of Israel.”

An aerial view shows a vessel preparing for a search-and-rescue exercise off Taiping island, in the South China Sea , Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, as part of efforts to cement its claim to a key island in the strategically vital waterbody. Eight vessels and three aircraft took part in Tuesday's drill, which simulated a fire aboard a cargo ship that forced crew members to seek safety on Taiping in the Spratly island group. (AP Photo/Johnson Lai)

In the South China Sea – the area between China and Taiwan – tensions have increased since the beginning of the year. China believes it has sovereignty over the island, which has been self-ruled for nearly 75 years, and may be ramping up its efforts following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng.

In April 2023, China performed “large-scale combat exercises around Taiwan” that included a simulated blockade.

While the U.S. does not officially recognize Taiwan, a U.S. law requires it to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

In February the U.S. and the Philippines struck a deal that allows U.S. forces access to four additional military camps in the Philippines; two of these are near Taiwan, giving the U.S. access to a total of nine military camps. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told China that the military bases available to the U.S. military wouldn’t be used for any “offensive action,” only to aid the Philippines.

Why does the Philippines let the U.S. use its military camps?

In 1951 the U.S. and the Philippines signed the Mutual Defense Treaty, assuring that if one nation were attacked, the other would come to its aid. A later agreement, the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, provides the U.S. access to certain Filipino military bases.

How do Americans feel about U.S. engagement overseas?

Overall, young Americans seem to have less trust in U.S. institutions, such as the military, and question U.S. military involvement abroad.

A September 2023 Gallup poll found that one-quarter of Generation Z have “very little” trust in the U.S. military, although Gen Z Republicans are more likely to trust the military compared to Gen Z Democrats.

More than half of Gen Z also believe that the U.S. should stay out of world affairs, according to polling from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and over one-third believe the U.S. should cut its defense spending.  

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