Totally Occupied: 700 Military Bases Spread Across Afghanistan
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In the nineteenth century, it was a fort used by British forces. In the twentieth century, Soviet troops moved into the crumbling facilities. In December 2009, at this site in the Shinwar district of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, U.S. troops joined members of the Afghan National Army in preparing the way for the next round of foreign occupation. On its grounds, a new military base is expected to rise, one of hundreds of camps and outposts scattered across the country.
Nearly a decade after the Bush administration launched its invasion of Afghanistan, TomDispatch offers the first actual count of American, NATO, and other coalition bases there, as well as facilities used by the Afghan security forces. Such bases range from relatively small sites like Shinwar to mega-bases that resemble small American towns. Today, according to official sources, approximately 700 bases of every size dot the Afghan countryside, and more, like the one in Shinwar, are under construction or soon will be as part of a base-building boom that began last year.
Existing in the shadows, rarely reported on and little talked about, this base-building program is nonetheless staggering in size and scope, and heavily dependent on supplies imported from abroad, which means that it is also extraordinarily expensive. It has added significantly to the already long secret list of Pentagon property overseas and raises questions about just how long, after the planned beginning of a drawdown of American forces in 2011, the U.S. will still be garrisoning Afghanistan.
400 Foreign Bases in Afghanistan
Colonel Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), tells TomDispatch that there are, at present, nearly 400 U.S. and coalition bases in Afghanistan, including camps, forward operating bases, and combat outposts. In addition, there are at least 300 Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) bases, most of them built, maintained, or supported by the U.S. A small number of the coalition sites are mega-bases like Kandahar Airfield, which boasts one of the busiest runways in the world, and Bagram Air Base, a former Soviet facility that received a makeover, complete with Burger King and Popeyes outlets, and now serves more than 20,000 U.S. troops, in addition to thousands of coalition forces and civilian contractors.
In fact, Kandahar, which housed 9,000 coalition troops as recently as 2007, is expected to have a population of as many as 35,000 troops by the time President Obama's surge is complete, according to Colonel Kevin Wilson who oversees building efforts in the southern half of Afghanistan for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On the other hand, the Shinwar site, according to Sgt. Tracy J. Smith of the U.S. 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, will be a small forward operating base (FOB) that will host both Afghan troops and foreign forces.
Last fall, it was reported that more than $200 million in construction projects -- from barracks to cargo storage facilities -- were planned for or in-progress at Bagram. Substantial construction funds have also been set aside by the U.S. Air Force to upgrade its air power capacity at Kandahar. For example, $65 million has been allocated to build additional apron space (where aircraft can be parked, serviced, and loaded or unloaded) to accommodate more close-air support for soldiers in the field and a greater intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability. Another $61 million has also been earmarked for the construction of a cargo helicopter apron and a tactical airlift apron there.
Kandahar is just one of many sites currently being upgraded. Exact figures on the number of facilities being enlarged, improved, or hardened are unavailable but, according a spokesman for ISAF, the military plans to expand several more bases to accommodate the increase of troops as part of Afghan War commander Stanley McChrystal’s surge strategy. In addition, at least 12 more bases are slated to be built to help handle the 30,000 extra American troops and thousands of NATO forces beginning to arrive in the country.