Digging in for the Long Haul in Afghanistan

A U.S. soldier walks in the snow at a forwarding base in Orgun-E in eastern Afghanistan, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007. Orgun-E is one of the largest of about a dozen similar bases along the eastern border with Pakistan and across southern Afghanistan that are still engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan. AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His latest book, The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books), which brings together leading analysts from across the political spectrum, has just been published. Turse is currently a fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute. This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Some go by names steeped in military tradition like Leatherneck and Geronimo.  Many sound fake-tough, like RamrodLightning, Cobra, and Wolverine.

Some display a local flavor, like Orgun-E, Howz-e-Madad, and Kunduz.  All, however, have one thing in common: they are U.S. and allied forward operating bases, also known as FOBs. 

They are part of a base-building surge that has left the countryside of Afghanistan dotted with military posts, themselves expanding all the time, despite the drawdown of forces promised by President Obama beginning in July 2011. 

The U.S. military does not count the exact number of FOBs it has built in Afghanistan, but forward operating bases and other facilities of similar or smaller size make up the bulk of U.S. outposts there.  Of the hundreds of U.S. bases in the country, according to Gary Younger, a U.S. public affairs officer with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), 77% house units of battalion size (approximately 500 to 1,000 troops) or smaller; 20% are occupied by units smaller than a Brigade Combat Team (about 3,000 troops); and 3% are huge bases, occupied by units larger than a Brigade Combat Team, that generally boast large-scale military command-and-control capabilities and all the amenities of Anytown, USA. Younger tells TomDispatch that ISAF does not centrally track its base construction and up-grading work, nor the money spent on such projects.

However, Major General Kenneth S. Dowd -- the Director of Logistics for U.S. Central Command for three years before leaving the post in June -- offered this partial account of the ongoing Afghan base build-up in the September/October issue of Army Sustainment, the official logistics journal of the Army:

"Military construction projects scheduled for com­pletion over the next 12 months will deliver 4 new runways, ramp space for 8 C−17 transports, and parking for 50 helicopters and 24 close air support and 26 intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. This represents roughly one-third of the air­field paving projects currently funded in the Afghanistan theater of operations. Additional minor construction plans called for the construction of over 12 new FOBs and expansion of 18 existing FOBs."

If Dowd offered the barest sketch of some of the projects planned or underway, a TomDispatch analysis of little-noticed U.S. government records and publications, including U.S. Army and Army Corps of Engineers contracting documents and construction-bid solicitations issued over the last five months, fills in the picture. 

The documents reveal plans for large-scale, expensive Afghan base expansions of every sort and a military that is expecting to pursue its building boom without letup well into the future.  These facts-on-the-ground indicate that, whatever timelines for phased withdrawal may be issued in Washington, the U.S. military is focused on building up, not drawing down, in Afghanistan.

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