By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Earlier this month, standing at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the United States is making a "sustained commitment" to that country, one that will last "some protracted period of time."
A series of new proposals coming out of the Pentagon make clear a significant aspect of that commitment: up to $300 million in construction projects at the base, in order to house more than 5,000 additional American forces. And the timeline of the proposals appears to indicate that these troops would arrive in Afghanistan much later in 2009 than U.S. officials have announced thus far.
Gates has talked of sending up to four additional brigade combat teams to Afghanistan early next year. One brigade, consisting normally of around 3,500 soldiers, is due to arrive in January. Gates said recently that he hoped another two brigades would be sent by spring. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last Saturday that by next summer, up to 30,000 U.S. troops would join the 31,000 already in Afghanistan.
The indication of additional troop deployments in the works for next winter comes in three solicitations from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for military housing contracts. Each could cost up to $100 million, with two of the three scheduled for completion by late next year.
The most recent of these solicitations came this week, when the Corps of Engineers sought bids on design and construction of two barracks to hold 2,000 members of a future Army brigade. The project also includes constructing guard stations and towers and perimeter fencing around the barracks area; putting in vehicle inspection areas; renovating a building to house administration offices; and constructing a separate office building and a cold-storage warehouse.
The proposal, which was updated Monday, also allows for the winning contractor to offer an "optional" bid on constructing a third barracks for another 1,000 troops -- something that was not part of the original proposal. The contractor would have a year to complete the project from the time it is awarded, so the new barracks could not be fully occupied until the end of 2009.
Another project, put out for bid earlier this month, involves construction of a new power plant for the Kandahar base, as well as electrical and water distribution systems and communications lines. In addition, it calls for relocating housing for the approximately 1,500 personnel who sustain the systems, a headquarters building and other storage, maintenance shops, warehouses and other supporting infrastructure. Scheduled to be awarded at the end of February, that project also is supposed to be completed by the end of 2009.
At another section of Kandahar Air Field, the Corps of Engineers is proposing an installation to house a corps support battalion, adjacent to an Afghan National Army garrison. The structure will initially house 665 soldiers, but eventually, according to the notice, 1,640 will live there.
Another indication of the Pentagon's expanding, long-term involvement in Afghanistan comes in a pre-solicitation proposal from the Corps of Engineers to supply operation and maintenance services for Afghan National Army installations around the country. The contract could run as high as $500 million over five years, beginning next October. The Army Corps said it is looking for qualified firms that would provide all public works functions for the Afghan National Army at its bases, even to the point of keeping its utilities and other infrastructure fully operational.