While the Obama administration weighs whether to send additional troops to Afghanistan, the U.S. military is spending billions of dollars on construction projects to ensure the country's infrastructure can support American and coalition personnel in 2010 and years beyond.
The military has already spent roughly $2.7 billion on construction over the past three fiscal years. Now, 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.
At the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, Bagram, 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 onto other sites. Under the proposed schedule, those facilities will not be completed until late 2010 and go into operation early in 2011, according to military sources.
Officials say such projects are absolutely essential given the inadequate and dilapidated nature of the existing infrastructure.
"The current facilities are inadequate to support the daily volume of approximately 1,000 passengers and 400 short tons of cargo each day," Lt. Col. Dan Krall, 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron commander, said in a statement.
With the transit of service personnel expected to grow to 1,650 a day, Krall said the terminal needs 1,000 seats in the terminal for personnel awaiting space on flights. Currently, the terminal has a 250-seat capacity.
Rear Adm. Hal Pittman, director of communications for U.S. Central Command, noted recently that many of the older military bases in Afghanistan were primarily made up of several small cement or mud buildings.
"Afghanistan is totally different from Iraq, where you had facilities that could be modernized," he said.
Pittman recalled that Bagram Air Base had cement block buildings constructed by the Soviets in the 1970s and '80s. When U.S. forces began to arrive in December 2001, most had to be put up in tents. While some troops are still housed in the Soviet-constructed buildings, close to $500 million has been spent to upgrade the base, which has 32 acres of ramp space, four large hangars, new barracks and an improvised terminal.
Now, there's a touch of America at the base, including fast-food options including Burger King and Pizza Hut.
Still, military officials say the upgrades hardly mean troops have all they need, and the construction at Bagram is far from complete. Last week, the Corps of Engineers put out notice of a new project at Bagram that could cost more than $25 million. It includes expansion of the paved aircraft parking area to hold 18 fighter aircraft.
The squadron that runs the area unloads cargo from Air Force C-5s, C-17s and other aircraft and has to reload much of it onto smaller carriers for deliver to forward operating bases, according to Capt. David Faggard, base spokesman. "With the completion of a new parking ramp supporting the world's largest aircraft in spring 2010, it is anticipated that an increase in cargo volume will result due to the increase in airlift aircraft parking capacity," he added.
Bagram is far from the only U.S. base being upgraded. The military is also spending hundreds of millions of dollars constructing facilities for the Afghan army and police. The U.S.-led coalition recently announced the opening of a $68 million, U.S.-financed forward operating base near Farah, in the western part of the country bordering on Iran. The base will house 2,000 Afghan soldiers and an American mentoring team.
Such bases can take a long time to build. The original solicitation for contractors on the Farah garrison project was dated Dec. 29, 2007. A proposal for an additional phase was offered in March 2008, and 18 months later, almost two years after it was first solicited, the garrison at Farah was opened.
Col. Thomas E. O'Donovan, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Afghanistan Engineer District, told reporters last March that his multibillion-dollar construction program is providing "underpinnings" for efforts at establishing security and stability across Afghanistan.
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