By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The Army is building $1.1 billion worth of military bases and other facilities in Afghanistan and is planning to start an additional $1.3 billion in projects this year, according to Col. Thomas E. O'Donovan, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Afghanistan District.
Massive construction of barracks, training areas, headquarters, warehouses and airfields for use by U.S. and Afghan security forces -- which could reach $4 billion -- signals a long-term U.S. military commitment at a time when the incoming Obama administration's policy for the Afghan war is unclear.
The new facilities will help house the three additional U.S. combat brigades already announced along with the planned expansion of the Afghan army. "We plan to support the flow of forces," O'Donovan said, "but some may have to sleep and eat in tents until we reach initial operating capacity."
Meanwhile, security problems are increasing, not only at construction sites but also in the effort to truck materials into landlocked Afghanistan from Pakistan, O'Donovan said. "Contract employees are being attacked, kidnapped and killed -- Afghans, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Turks -- by those who are trying to stop us," he said in a phone interview from Kabul. Contractors on the Afghan projects are required to provide their own security, "but there is close coordination with U.S. and Afghan forces," he said. Up to 15 percent of contractors' costs pay for security, he added.
With a constant flow of steel, lumber, cement and other supplies that must be transported into the country, "we have had a challenge," O'Donovan said, because supply convoys are being struck as they move inside Afghanistan. The U.S. Army in Kabul has advertised for civilian contractors to provide security escort teams for truck convoys once they enter the country, according to a December solicitation. The contract is for one year with an option for two additional years. If it were to run three years, the solicitation document said, the cost could reach $97 million.
The United States has been building major facilities in Afghanistan for years. By 2004, the Pentagon said the Army Corps of Engineers had built 186 barracks buildings and 22 administration buildings for the Afghan army.
One measure of the speed of new U.S. military construction in Afghanistan is the variety of projects put out for bid last month. On Dec. 2, bids were sought for a contract exceeding $10 million to build a compound that will serve as a new forward operating base in Badghis province in northwest Afghanistan. It is to house 650 Afghan soldiers and 25 U.S. trainers.
On Dec. 3, bids were sought on a contract that could exceed $10 million for new runways and other facilities at Shank Air Base, south of Kabul. This base has until now housed 150 U.S. troops, 200 Czech troops, eight Czech civilians and 50 employees of the U.S. military contractor KBR.
Also on Dec. 3, bids for what could become a $100 million contract were put out for three projects at the Kandahar airfield to house up to 3,000 U.S. soldiers. On Christmas Eve, two more solicitations for projects that each could cost $100 million were published for installations to handle new Afghan army battalions, one in Gardez, south of Kabul, and another in Kandahar.
A Defense Department audit, completed last month, evaluated 10 Afghan projects already underway valued at $250 million. They include a $40 million military training center near Kabul for the Afghan army that features a 600-person student barracks, four buildings for 1,000 more troops, a large dining facility and a multipurpose gymnasium.
An additional $25 million at the Kabul training center was for construction of four more student barracks, administrative and classroom buildings, and a military police compound.