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Danger lies between the lines of a U.S. Army contract in Afghanistan

Here is a reminder that there is still fighting going on in a part of Afghanistan that was deemed ready to be transitioned to the Afghan Army for security purposes almost a year ago.

In a new U.S Army Corps of Engineers solicitation to complete construction of an Afghan National Army, Corps Support Battalion and related support facilities at Camp Zafar in Herat Province, potential bidders are told: “The project is in an active war zone where International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) may conduct offensive and defensive operations against a variety of hostile forces, to include members of the Taliban.”

Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washington Post. He first came to the paper in 1966 and has covered numerous subjects, including nuclear weapons and arms control, politics and congressional investigations. He was among Post reporters awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. View Archive

The project could cost up to $25 million to complete construction of the army base that began in 2009 for 700 soldiers. It is now going to be expanded.

There are seven enlisted personnel barracks to be completed along with four officer barracks. Also to be finished are a dining hall, one battalion headquarters along with maintenance, storage, and communications buildings, plus a gymnasium.

The project is expected to take nearly a year to complete after the contract is awarded. Although the project is taking place on an existing base, proposed bidders are warned that the winning contractor “may not receive any support whatsoever in securing the project site and in securing the transportation of materials to the project site.”

Real security — as Americans understand it — does not, and probably will not, realistically exist in Afghanistan no matter how safe it is declared today or next year by U.S. or Afghan officials. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Neither the United States nor Afghan or ISAF forces can provide security for the project, as it is the contractor’s responsibility. And the bidders are being told that the Afghan government, “acting in its sovereign capacity in its prosecution of its operations, may take actions which directly or indirectly affect the contractor.”

In short, the contractor has to put together his own security plan and understand he is going into an area where the security situation “is subject to significant transformation in a short time span based on the changing operational picture in the region.”

This is in Herat Province, adjacent to the Iranian border, which last January was considered safe enough to be included in the second transitioning of provinces to Afghan Army for security. Camp Zafar is also home of the first Afghan Army Corps’s training facilities and the site last October of exercises in which Afghan Army commandos and the Afghan Air force for the first time conducted joint operations.

It is up to the contractor to develop a round-the-clock security plan not just for the project, which is to have its own fenced-in area, but also for any living area for workers and for the transportation of materiel and equipment.

The contractor also is to provide information on all of its armed civilian security personnel, including their Interior Ministry license numbers and the numbers and types of weapons authorized, as well as the number of security personnel “by type, U.S., Afghan or others.”

Also required are photos and “Tazkira [identification] numbers of security personnel as well as those personnel with access to weapons/ammo and those persons who will be handling or transporting explosives.”

It is up to the contractor to provide security equipment “including but not limited to weapons, radios, uniforms, vehicles, vehicle fuel, phones, and other equipment.”

The winning contractor must coordinate his security activities with ISAF forces and local governments, but the contractor is prohibited from “making any unauthorized or illegal payments to” Afghan Army, Afghan National Police or local or provincial officials “for permission or protection to construct the project.”

If any such request for payment is made, it must be immediately reported to government officials.

To facilitate coordination, there must be a “24/7 security operations center with communication capability to each guard on duty and the ability to notify all on-site personnel of increased threats and protective actions to take.” The system must also connect with the local ISAF, Afghan Army and Afghan National Police forces.

One unique item: The contractor must create and display at least one plywood or aluminum sign “to identify the project site as a Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan sponsored project associated with the Ministry of Defense.” The sign shall be at least 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide with the Defense Ministry logo and the black-green-and-red Afghan flag.

Overall, this contract illustrates why the cost of such construction in Afghanistan is so high and what it now takes to prevent problems that have emerged in many of the earlier Afghan construction projects.

The solicitation also sadly recognizes that real security — as Americans understand it — does not, and probably will not, realistically exist in Afghanistan no matter how safe it is declared today or next year by U.S. or Afghan officials.

For previous Fine Print columns, go to



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