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In Afghanistan, the Pentagon Digs in

The Pentagon's building boom in Afghanistan indicates a long war ahead.

| Thu Nov. 5, 2009 2:03 PM EST

A Mob of FOBs

It seems that no one outside the Pentagon knows just exactly how many US camps, forward operating bases, combat outposts, patrol bases and other fortified sites the US military is currently using or constructing in Afghanistan. And while the Americans have recently abandoned a few of their installations, effectively ceding the northeastern province of Nuristan to Taliban forces, elsewhere a base-building boom has been underway.

In April, Contrack was awarded another $28 million contract for work on airfields—to be performed at unspecified sites in Afghanistan. In June, Florida-based IAP Worldwide Services was awarded a $21 million contract to enhance electrical power distribution at the US Marines' still-growing Forward Operating Base (FOB) Leatherneck in Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold. Scheduled for completion in June 2010, that project is only part of IAP's work, which has involved "almost two dozen power plants at US Army bases in Afghanistan and Iraq" that, according to the company's promotional literature, its teams have "delivered, installed, operated and maintained."

FOB Dwyer, also in Helmand Province, is fast becoming a "hub" for air support in southern Afghanistan, according to Captain Vincent Rea of the Air Force's 809th Expeditionary Red Horse Squadron. To that end, Marine Corps and Air Force personnel are building runways and helipads to accommodate ever more fixed-wing and rotary aircraft on the base. The two services collaborated on the construction of a 4,300-foot airstrip capable of accommodating giant C-130 Hercules transport aircraft that increase the US capability to support more troops on more bases in more remote areas.

"With the C-130s coming in more frequently, more Marines can travel at a given time and will definitely help Camp Dwyer and other FOBs and COPs (Combat Outposts) to build up," says Capt. Alexander Lugo-Velazquez of Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 169. In September, the Air Force reported the completion of the first phase of a six-phase construction project at FOB Dwyer which will eventually include additional fuel pits and taxiways, increased tarmac space, and the lengthening of the runway to 6,000 feet. In October, according to government documents, the Army also began soliciting bids—in the $10-$25 million range—for construction of fuel storage and distribution facilities at FOB Dwyer. These, like the infrastructure upgrades at Bagram, are not scheduled to be completed until sometime in 2011.

In Helmand, as well as Farah, Kandahar, and Nimruz provinces, between June and September the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan alone established four new forward operating bases, "10 combat outposts, six patrol bases, and four ancillary operating positions, helicopter landing zones and an expeditionary airfield." In October, defense contractor AECOM Technology signed a $78 million, 6-month extension contract with the Army to "provide general-support maintenance as well as the operation of maintenance facilities, living quarters and offices at two US military bases as well as forward operating bases and satellite locations" in Afghanistan.

Defense contracting giant Fluor has also been hard at work landing lucrative deals in Afghanistan. In March, the Army reported that, in accordance with President Obama's spring surge of troops, Regional Command East in Afghanistan had tasked Fluor to expand four existing forward operating bases and, if need be, build another eight new ones.

In Regional Command South, it was reported that "[e]mergency work to expand eight FOBs [wa]s underway after being competitively awarded to Fluor under LOGCAP IV." This is the current version of a military program first instituted by the Pentagon in 1985. It has been the key means by which military logistics and supply functions have been turned over to private contractors. (The previous version of the program, LOGCAP III, was awarded solely to Kellogg, Brown and Root Services or KBR, then a division of the oil services giant Halliburton, primarily in support of US operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait and was plagued by scandals.)

In Afghanistan, companies like Fluor are clearly digging in. Fluor, in fact, describes itself as "co-located with the US Army in Afghanistan, where the team coordinates, provides oversight, and implements Fluor's execution plan to provide the necessary resources and labor to accomplish this mission" of "providing multi-functional base life support and combat services support (CSS) to the US and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan."

The company is "simultaneously constructing and managing the expansion of eight Forward Operating Bases[...] in Southern Afghanistan. This includes the construction of an FOB to accommodate 17,000 to 20,000 US Military personnel." Fluor, no doubt, expects to be "co-located with the US Army in Afghanistan" for a long time. In July 2009, the defense giant was awarded a $1.5 billion contract for LOGCAP IV services in Afghanistan; in October, the Army reported that the LOGCAP program was responsible for erecting 6,020 units of containerized housing known as relocatable buildings or RLBs in Regional Command South.

Nick TurseIn July, under an existing LOGCAP IV contract, scandal-tainted defense contractor DynCorp International, along with partners CH2M Hill and Taos Industries, received a one year $643.5 million order to "provide existing bases within the Afghanistan South AOR [area of responsibility] with operations and maintenance support, including but not limited to: facilities management, electrical power, water, sewage and waste management, laundry operations, food services and transportation motor pool operations," as well as "construction services for additional sites." With an eye to the future, the Pentagon has included four one-year options in the contract which, if taken up, would be worth an estimated $5.8 billion.

Just recently, the Australian military indicated it was also digging in for a long stay, announcing a $37 million upgrade of its main base near Tarin Kowt in Oruzgan province, to be completed by mid-2011. As at other NATO facilities, increasing numbers of US troops have been operating out of Tarin Kowt recently and, in late September, the US-based company Kandahar Constructors signed a $25 million deal with the Pentagon for runway upgrades there, also to be completed in 2011.

Speaking the Language of Occupation

In 2009 alone, after many billions of dollars had already gone into the construction, expansion, and maintenance of US bases in Afghanistan, American taxpayers were called upon to pay for more than $1 billion in construction contracts—and based on the evidence at hand, including those future options, this may prove just a drop in the proverbial bucket.

All of this has been happening without a clear plan laid out in Washington for the future of US military operations in that country, without a legitimate national government in Kabul, and of course with no shortage of infrastructural repairs needed at home. Americans curious to know much of anything about the Pentagon's Afghan building boom beyond Bagram would have found little on the nightly news or in major newspapers. It has essentially been carried out in the dark, far away, and with only the most modest reportorial interest.

Forget for a moment the "debates" in Washington over Afghan War policy and, if you just focus on the construction activity and the flow of money into Afghanistan, what you see is a war that, from the point of view of the Pentagon, isn't going to end any time soon. In fact, the US military's building boom in that country suggests that, in the ninth year of the Afghan War, the Pentagon has plans for a far longer-term, if not near-permanent, garrisoning of the country, no matter what course Washington may decide upon. Alternatively, it suggests that the Pentagon is willing to waste taxpayer money (which might have shored up sagging infrastructure in the US and created a plethora of jobs) on what will sooner or later be abandoned runways, landing zones and forward operating bases.

The building and fortifying of bases in Afghanistan isn't the only sign that the US military is digging in for an even longer haul. Another key indicator can be found in a Pentagon contract awarded in late September to SOS International, Ltd., a privately owned "operations support company" that provides everything from "cultural advisory services" to "intelligence and counterintelligence analysis and training" to numerous federal agencies. That contract, primarily for linguistic services in support of military operations in Afghanistan, has an estimated completion date of September 2014.

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