Pentagon Pouring Your Money Into Afghanistan: Are They Preparing for a Very Long War?
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In recent weeks, President Obama has been contemplating the future of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. He has also been touting the effects of his policies at home, reporting that this year's Recovery Act not only saved jobs, but also was "the largest investment in infrastructure since [President Dwight] Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s." At the same time, another much less publicized U.S.-taxpayer-funded infrastructure boom has been underway. This one in Afghanistan.
While Washington has put modest funding into civilian projects in Afghanistan this year -- ranging from small-scale power plants to "public latrines" to a meat market -- the real construction boom is military in nature. The Pentagon has been funneling stimulus-sized sums of money to defense contractors to markedly boost its military infrastructure in that country.
In fiscal year 2009, for example, the civilian U.S. Agency for International Development awarded $20 million in contracts for work in Afghanistan, while the U.S. Army alone awarded $2.2 billion -- $834 million of it for construction projects. In fact, according to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post , the Pentagon has spent "roughly $2.7 billion on construction over the past three fiscal years" in that country and, "if its request is approved as part of the fiscal 2010 defense appropriations bill, it would spend another $1.3 billion on more than 100 projects at 40 sites across the country, according to a Senate report on the legislation."
Bogged Down at Bagram
Nowhere has the building boom been more apparent than Bagram Air Base, a key military site used by the Soviet Union during its occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. In its American incarnation, the base has significantly expanded from its old Soviet days and, in just the last two years, the population of the more than 5,000 acre compound has doubled to 20,000 troops, in addition to thousands of coalition forces and civilian contractors. To keep up with its exponential growth rate, more than $200 million in construction projects are planned or in-progress at this moment on just the Air Force section of the base. "Seven days a week, concrete trucks rumble along the dusty perimeter road of this air base as bulldozers and backhoes reshape the rocky earth," Chuck Crumbo of The State reported recently. "Hundreds of laborers slap mortar onto bricks as they build barracks and offices. Four concrete plants on the base have operated around the clock for 18 months to keep up with the construction needs."
The base already boasts fast food favorites Burger King, a combination Pizza Hut/Bojangles, and Popeyes as well as a day spa and shops selling jewelry, cell phones and, of course, Afghan rugs. In the near future, notes Pincus, "the military is planning to build a $30 million passenger terminal and adjacent cargo facility to handle the flow of troops, many of whom arrive at the base north of Kabul before moving on to other sites." In addition, according to the Associated Press, the base command is "acquiring more land next year on the east side to expand" even further.
To handle the influx of troops already being dispatched by the Obama administration (with more expected once the president decides on his long-term war plans) "new dormitories" are going up at Bagram, according to David Axe of the Washington Times . The base's population will also increase in the near future, thanks to a project-in-progress recently profiled in The Freedom Builder , an Army Corps of Engineers publication: the MILCON Bagram Theatre Internment Facility (TIF) currently being built at a cost of $60 million by a team of more than 1,000 Filipinos, Indians, Sri Lankans, and Afghans. When completed, it will consist of 19 buildings and 16 guard towers designed to hold more than 1,000 detainees on the sprawling base which has long been notorious for the torture and even murder of prisoners within its confines.