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Satellite photos of Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, before and after U.S. withdrawal

This 64,000 square-foot headquarter building at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, was never used, and cost $33 million to build. (Photo released by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction)
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The top U.S. watchdog for Afghanistan reconstruction released a new report Wednesday that details how the military constructed an extravagant $36 million headquarters building at a major U.S. military base in Afghanistan, even though the top general there requested in 2010 that the project be stopped.

That project was first covered by The Washington Post in 2013, and stands out as example of how miscommunication and mismanagement contributed to the waste of taxpayer dollars during the U.S. surge in Afghanistan. But the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) also released satellite images Wednesday that paint a picture of just how vast the base, Camp Leatherneck, was at the height of U.S. operations there.

[Why the end of Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan matters]

The base, in Helmand province, served as the main hub of Marine Corps operations across southern Afghanistan. Thousands of U.S. troops, contractors and civilian employees were deployed there, and tens of thousands more used it as a way-station to get to smaller bases from which troops patrolled through the poppy fields, deserts and mud compounds. The base was turned over to the Afghan military in its entirety in October, as the last U.S. troops left the region.

First, an image of Leatherneck in April 2011, as the U.S. buildup was starting to reach its height, but many tents were still in use:

Next, an image of Leatherneck in January 2014, the last year the U.S. military had a large presence there. Notably, there are many more permanent buildings in place:

And here’s a more recent image taken in March 2015. The white $33 million headquarters building sticks out, but many of the other areas have been vacated.

And here’s a wide image of Camp Leatherneck taken in March. Note the wide open spaces:

The satellite photos were taken by DigitalGlobe, a private company that frequently works with the U.S. government. They would not typically be released while the U.S. military was using the base, but concerns appear to have waned now that the military drawdown there is complete.

Afghan troops are still deployed nearby, but Leatherneck was one of three conjoined bases there. The other two were Camp Bastion, a British-run base with a massive airfield, and Camp Shorabak, which was used to train the Afghan military.

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