War Is Boring reporter Jason Reich is in eastern Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division.
by JASON REICH
The Soviet engineers who first built the control tower at Bagram Airfield in the late 1970s could never have imagined that 30 years down the road, their meager control tower would be surrounded by a Burger King, Pizza Hut, Popeye’s Chicken, and around 20,000 American soldiers and airmen. Since its capture in the early days of the American-led invasion in 2001, Bagram has been growing at a staggering pace. Tents and trenches have been replaced by concrete barracks and paved streets. Most importantly, a critical $68-million upgrade to the runway in 2006 allows even the heaviest cargo planes to unload some of the 14,000 tons of cargo flying into Bagram every day.
Most of the changes in Bagram are made with “sustainment” (a.k.a., long-term logistics –ed.) in mind –- a telling sign of the U.S. and NATO’s plans for a long commitment to Afghanistan, or at least to the troops stationed here. In the past few years, the tents that once sprawled across the open landscape have been removed and replaced with B-huts, small wooden caravans with electrical power and in some cases running water. Now, even the B-huts are being phased out and upgraded to RLBs (relocatable buildings) and concrete barracks. Heavy construction equipment is already stacked alongside the numerous minefields surrounding the base, ready to be put to use the moment a minefield is cleared.
But for all these improvements, Bagram still projects the image of a massive fortress: isolated from the population, heavily defended and out of sync with the counter-insurgency doctrine currently employed in the surrounding provinces. While standing in the old Soviet control tower, looking out over a sprawling city of asphalt roads, concrete barracks and Hesco barriers, it is easy to see how much the U.S. is striving for “sustainability” in Afghanistan. But I wonder if the surrounding Afghan villages, mere specks from my vantage point, are getting the message.
(Photo: Jason Reich)