[News] The 700 Military Bases of Afghanistan - Black Sites in the Empire of Bases

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Wed Feb 10 10:56:15 EST 2010

The 700 Military Bases of Afghanistan

Black Sites in the Empire of Bases

By <http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/nickturse>Nick Turse

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In the nineteenth century, it was a fort used by British forces.  In 
the twentieth century, Soviet troops moved into the crumbling 
facilities.  In December 2009, at this site in the Shinwar district 
of Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province, U.S. troops joined members of 
the Afghan National Army in preparing the way for the next round of 
foreign occupation.  On its grounds, a new military base is expected 
to rise, one of hundreds of camps and outposts scattered across the country.

Nearly a decade after the Bush administration launched its invasion 
of Afghanistan, TomDispatch offers the first actual count of 
American, NATO, and other coalition bases there, as well as 
facilities used by the Afghan security forces.  Such bases range from 
relatively small sites like Shinwar to mega-bases that resemble small 
American towns.  Today, according to official sources, approximately 
700 bases of every size dot the Afghan countryside, and more, like 
the one in Shinwar, are under construction or soon will be as part of 
boom that began last year.

Existing in the shadows, rarely reported on and little talked about, 
this base-building program is nonetheless staggering in size and 
scope, and heavily dependent on supplies imported from abroad, which 
means that it is also extraordinarily expensive.  It has added 
significantly to the already long secret list of Pentagon property 
overseas and raises questions about just how long, after the planned 
beginning of a drawdown of American forces in 2011, the U.S. will 
still be garrisoning Afghanistan.

400 Foreign Bases in Afghanistan

A spokesman for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force 
(ISAF) tells TomDispatch that there are, at present, nearly 400 U.S. 
and coalition bases in Afghanistan, including camps, forward 
operating bases, and combat outposts.  In addition, there are at 
least 300 Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) 
bases, most of them built, maintained, or supported by the U.S.  A 
small number of the coalition sites are mega-bases like Kandahar 
Airfield, which boasts one of the busiest runways in the world, and 
Bagram Air Base, a former Soviet facility that received a makeover, 
complete with Burger King and Popeyes outlets, and now serves more 
than 20,000 U.S. troops, in addition to thousands of coalition forces 
and civilian contractors.

In fact, Kandahar, which housed 9,000 coalition troops as recently as 
2007, is expected to have a population of as many as 35,000 troops by 
the time President Obama's surge is complete, according to Colonel 
Kevin Wilson who oversees building efforts in the southern half of 
Afghanistan for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  On the other hand, 
the Shinwar site, 
to Sgt. Tracy J. Smith of the U.S. 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 
will be a small forward operating base (FOB) that will host both 
Afghan troops and foreign forces.

Last fall, it was reported that more than $200 million in 
construction projects -- from barracks to cargo storage facilities -- 
were planned for or in-progress at Bagram.  Substantial 
funds have also been set aside by the U.S. Air Force to upgrade its 
air power capacity at Kandahar.  For example, $65 million has been 
allocated to build additional apron space (where aircraft can be 
parked, serviced, and loaded or unloaded) to accommodate more 
close-air support for soldiers in the field and a greater 
intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability.  Another 
$61 million has also been earmarked for the construction of a cargo 
helicopter apron and a tactical airlift apron there.

Kandahar is just one of many sites currently being upgraded.  Exact 
figures on the number of facilities being enlarged, improved, or 
hardened are unavailable but, according a spokesman for ISAF, the 
military plans to expand several more bases to accommodate the 
increase of troops as part of Afghan War commander Stanley 
McChrystal's surge strategy.  In addition, at least 12 more bases are 
slated to be built to help handle the 30,000 extra American troops 
and thousands of NATO forces beginning to arrive in the country.

"Currently we have over $3 billion worth of work going on in 
Afghanistan," says Colonel Wilson, "and probably by the summer, when 
the dust settles from all the uplift, we'll have about $1.3 billion 
to $1.4 billion worth of that [in the South]."  By comparison, 
between 2002 and 2008, the Army Corps of Engineers spent more than 
$4.5 billion on construction projects, most of it base-building, in 

At the site of the future FOB in Shinwar, more than 135 private 
construction contractors attended what was termed an 
"Afghan-Coalition contractors rodeo."  According to Lieutenant 
Fernando Roach, a contracting officer with the U.S. Army's Task Force 
Mountain Warrior, the event was designed "to give potential 
contractors a walkthrough of the area so they'll have a solid 
overview of the scope of work."  The construction firms then bid on 
three separate projects: the renovation of the more than 30-year old 
Soviet facilities, the building of new living quarters for Afghan and 
coalition forces, and the construction of a two-kilometer wall for the base.

In the weeks since the "rodeo," the U.S. Army has announced 
additional plans to upgrade facilities at other forward operating 
bases.  At FOB Airborne, located near Kane-Ezzat in Wardak Province, 
for instance, the Army intends to put in reinforced concrete bunkers 
and blast protection barriers as well as lay concrete foundations for 
Re-Locatable Buildings (prefabricated, trailer-like structures used 
for living and working quarters).  Similar work is also scheduled for 
FOB Altimur, an Army camp in Logar Province.

The Afghan Base Boom

Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Afghanistan 
District-Kabul, announced that it would be seeking bids on "site 
assessments" for Afghan National Security Forces District 
Headquarters Facilities nationwide.  The precise number of Afghan 
bases scattered throughout the country is unclear.

When asked by TomDispatch, Colonel Radmanish of the Afghan Ministry 
of Defense would state only that major bases were located in Kabul, 
Pakteya, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif, and that ANA units 
operate all across Afghanistan.  Recent U.S. Army contracts for 
maintenance services provided to Afghan army and police bases, 
however, suggest that there are no fewer than 300 such facilities 
that are, according to an ISAF spokesman, not counted among the 
coalition base inventory.

As opposed to America's fast-food-franchise-filled bases, Afghan ones 
are often decidedly more rustic affairs.  The police headquarters in 
Khost Farang District, Baghlan Province, is a good 
example.  According to a detailed site assessment conducted by a 
local contractor for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Afghan 
government, the district headquarters consists of mud and stone 
buildings surrounded by a mud wall.  The site even lacks a deep well 
for water.  A trench fed by a nearby spring is the only convenient 
water source.

The U.S. bases that most resemble austere Afghan facilities are 
combat outposts, also known as COPs.  Environmental Specialist 
Michael Bell of the Army Corps of Engineers, Afghanistan Engineer 
District-South's Real Estate Division, 
described the facilities and life on such a base as he and his 
co-worker, Realty Specialist Damian Salazar, saw it in late 2009:

"COP Sangar... is a compound surrounded by mud and straw walls. Tents 
with cots supplied the sleeping quarters... A medical, pharmacy and 
command post tent occupied the center of the COP, complete with a few 
computers with internet access and three primitive operating tables. 
Showers had just been installed with hot [water]... only available 
from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m...

"An MWR [Morale, Welfare and Recreation] tent was erected on 
Thanksgiving Day with an operating television; however, the tent was 
rarely used due to the cold. Most of the troops used a tent with gym 
equipment for recreation... A cook trailer provided a hot simple 
breakfast and supper. Lunch was MREs [meals ready to eat]. Nights 
were pitch black with no outside lighting from the base or the city."

What Makes a Base?

According to an official site assessment, future construction at the 
Khost Farang District police headquarters will make use of sand, 
gravel, and stone, all available on the spot.  Additionally, cement, 
steel, bricks, lime, and gypsum have been located for purchase in 
Pol-e Khomri City, about 85 miles away.

Constructing a base for American troops, however, is another 
matter.  For the far less modest American needs of American troops, 
builders rely heavily on goods imported over extremely long, 
difficult to traverse, and sometimes embattled supply lines, all of 
which adds up to an extraordinarily costly affair.  "Our business 
runs on materials," Lieutenant General Robert Van Antwerp, commander 
of the Army Corps of Engineers, 
<http://www.aed.usace.army.mil/AES/flash/TopRight.swf>told an 
audience at a town hall meeting in Afghanistan in December 
2009.  "You have to bring in the lumber, you have to bring in the 
steel, you have to bring in the containers and all that. Transport 
isn't easy in this country -- number one, the roads themselves, 
number two, coming through other countries to get here -- there are 
just huge challenges in getting the materials here."

To facilitate U.S. base construction projects, a new "virtual 
storefront" -- an online shopping portal -- has been launched by the 
Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).  The Maintenance, Repair 
and Operations Uzbekistan Virtual Storefront website and a defense 
contractor-owned and operated brick-and-mortar warehouse facility 
that supports it aim to provide regionally-produced construction 
materials to speed surge-accelerated building efforts.

 From a facility located in Termez, Uzbekistan, cement, concrete, 
fencing, roofing, rope, sand, steel, gutters, pipe, and other 
construction material manufactured in countries like Armenia, 
Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and 
Turkmenistan can be rushed to nearby Afghanistan to accelerate 
base-building efforts. "Having the products closer to the fight will 
make it easier for warfighters by reducing logistics response and 
delivery time," 
Chet Evanitsky, the DLA's construction and equipment supply chain 
division chief.

America's Shadowy Base World

The Pentagon's most recent inventory of bases lists a total of 716 
overseas sites.  These include facilities owned and leased all across 
the Middle East as well as a significant presence in Europe and Asia, 
especially Japan and South Korea.  Perhaps even more notable than the 
Pentagon's impressive public 
property portfolio are the many sites left off the official 
inventory.  While bases in the 
Gulf countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates 
are all listed, one conspicuously absent site is Al-Udeid Air Base, a 
billion-dollar facility in nearby Qatar, where the U.S. Air Force 
oversees its on-going unmanned drone wars.

The count also does not include any sites in Iraq where, as of August 
2009, there were still 
<http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=8448762>nearly 300 
American bases and outposts.  Similarly, U.S. bases in Afghanistan -- 
a significant percentage of the 400 foreign sites scattered across 
the country -- are noticeably absent from the Pentagon inventory.

Counting the remaining bases in Iraq -- as many as 50 are slated to 
be operating after President Barack Obama's August 31, 2010, deadline 
to remove all U.S. "combat troops" from the country -- and those in 
Afghanistan, as well as black sites like Al-Udeid, the total number 
of U.S. bases overseas now must significantly exceed 1,000.  Just 
exactly how many U.S. military bases (and allied facilities used by 
U.S. forces) are scattered across the globe may never be publicly 
known.  What we do know -- from the experience of bases in Germany, 
Italy, Japan, and South Korea -- is that, once built, they have a 
tendency toward permanency that a cessation of hostilities, or even 
outright peace, has a way of not altering.

After nearly a decade of war, close to 700 U.S., allied, and Afghan 
military bases dot Afghanistan.  Until now, however, they have 
existed as black sites known to few Americans outside the 
Pentagon.  It remains to be seen, a decade into the future, how many 
of these sites will still be occupied by U.S. and allied troops and 
whose flag will be planted on the ever-shifting 
British-Soviet-U.S./Afghan site at Shinwar.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and the winner 
of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a 
James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has 
appeared in the Los Angeles Times, 
<http://www.thenation.com/doc/20081201/turse/single>the Nation, In 
These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a 
fellow at New York University's Center for the United States and the 
Cold War. He is the author of 
Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan 
Books). His website is <http://www.nickturse.com/>NickTurse.com.

[This article first appeared on 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/>Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation 
Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and 
opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, 
co-founder of <http://www.americanempireproject.com/>the American 
Empire Project, author of 
End of Victory Culture, and editor of 
World According to Tomdispatch: America in the New Age of Empire.]

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