By Walter Pincus
Monday, December 29, 2008
The complexity of the military undertaking in Afghanistan, and the United States' approach to it, can be seen in miniature in the Army Corps of Engineers' plans to build a forward operating base next year in western Afghanistan.
The facility at Qaleh-ye Now expected to cost more than $10 million, will house a 600-man Afghan National Army battalion, its 25-member embedded U.S. training team and up to 25 interpreters, according to a solicitation for contractors released this month. The Pentagon plans to construct several such bases as part of the effort to institute in Afghanistan, as Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it last week, "the clear, hold, build" strategy used in Iraq.
The Taliban had operated fairly freely in the area until recently, when one of its leaders was captured by an Afghan intelligence unit. There still is danger in Badghis province, though, and it is reflected in the solicitation's statement of work: The winning contractor, before even beginning to clear the area for the base, must provide protection along the perimeter, including temporary fences and private security guards.
The perimeter security should "prevent unauthorized site access" and protect the contractor's workforce, and the guards should join with government personnel in confronting any "minor enemy attack," according to the work statement. Local police, the Afghan National Army and coalition forces can be called on for backup, but it is the contractor's responsibility to inform the U.S. government "immediately or in advance if possible" if the local security situation deteriorates.
Another risk is "encountering UXO" -- unexploded ordnance or munitions. "The contractor assumes the risk of any and all personal injury," the work statement warns.
The completed base is to be surrounded by a stone wall, 8 1/2 feet tall and topped by barbed wire. Sliding steel gates will control access to the compound, and guard towers will be at each corner, at a minimum.
Inside the walls, barracks for Afghan soldiers will be in the main area of the compound, while embedded trainers and their translators are to live in another, fenced-off part of the base.
The Afghan enlistees will share an open barracks, which will have ceiling fans for summer and electric heating units for winter. "High ranking and senior personnel" will get individual rooms, air conditioning, electric heaters and boot-scraping grates to keep dirt out.
The U.S. trainers and translators will also get air conditioning and electric heaters.
The differences in rank and nationality extend even to the construction of latrines.
Toilets in the trainers' and translators' barracks are to be "western style, water closet type with urinals."
The Afghan enlistees will get one central latrine and shower facility, to be "closely located to the barracks." Toilets will be "eastern style," with a wall-mounted sanitary water hose "on the right side of the occupant as he faces the stall door." There will be no urinals.
"For cultural reasons," the work statement orders, "face all toilets in the North/South axis," so as to avoid making the occupant face or turn his back toward Mecca.
National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.