As the influx of additional American troops into southern Afghanistan gets under way, officials are expanding bases and building new ones in an effort to provide infrastructure and support.
The Army has requested $924 million in "overseas contingency funding" for construction in Afghanistan for the approximately 30,000 extra U.S. troops. At Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan, the new "mini-surge," as many American and other NATO troops are calling it, has spurred a frenzy of new construction and other activity.
Canadian helicopter crews have started conducting flight operations in a remote section of the airfield that only a month ago was empty except for pieces of wrecked aircraft and other debris left over from the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and the Afghan civil war that followed in the early 1990s. The debris has been pushed aside, and Canadian flights are now going in and out daily.
Sections of the airfield that had once been empty desert are filling up with shipping containers and rows of civilian construction equipment. Crews work into the night building new troop barracks and other buildings. Paving crews are putting down asphalt atop roads that for years were nothing but gravel.
In recent weeks, hundreds of new troops have flooded into the base.
"We don’t have the infrastructure in place in Afghanistan that we have developed over six to seven years in Iraq, and so there are a fair number of one-time costs that we have to incur in order to stand up the number of BCTs (brigade combat teams) that are going to be [in] Afghanistan," Lt. Gen. Edgar E. Stanton III, military deputy for budget, told reporters last week.
The money would go toward troop housing, airfield operations, chow halls and fuel handling systems, officials said.
U.S. Forces Afghanistan described the process as being "in various stages of development throughout the region."
"Every [forward operating base] we construct will be expeditionary. Incoming troops will get the basics to maintain safety and do their missions," U.S. Forces Afghanistan Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua Savusa was quoted as saying in a news release. "This expansion was meant to be austere."
Many of the troops headed to other locations in southern Afghanistan could spend several weeks at already crowded Kandahar before moving out to forward locations, officials said.
U.S. Forces Afghanistan officials said part of the program is "expectation management."
"The reality of the life troops are going to have for the amount of time they are [in Kandahar] is that it will be overcrowded," said Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Schultz of Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan.
Troops will either be "pleasantly surprised that it’s not as bad as they expected, or it’ll be exactly what they thought it would be like."
Construction is being done by a mix of contractors, Navy Seabees and engineer units — such as the 4th Engineer Battalion, which had just been shifted to Afghanistan from Iraq.
Crews and units are also constructing helicopter landing pads, and plans are being developed for landing strips that can accommodate C-130s and other aircraft.
The influx of troops also raises logistical issues. According to news reports from media traveling with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, some units were still waiting for radios and other vital equipment to arrive at their new bases.
"I heard this on several occasions today, that the equipment is coming in behind the troops and is not here and available for them when they arrive," Gates said at a Thursday news conference in Kabul.
The problem, in part, Gates said, was not acquiring the equipment, but "the relatively limited infrastructure in terms of airfields and so on of how to get it in here."