Afghanistan planning calls for up to eight more years
September 29, 2003
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — U.S. forces could be digging in for a stay of up to eight more years in Afghanistan, where frequent firefights continue on the border with Pakistan nearly two years after major combat ended.
Base operations officials at Bagram and Kandahar bases are operating on long-term plans for improvements to the bases, which include building barracks similar to those found in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, among other quality-of-life projects.
“There is a long-term plan; we’re going to be here a long time,” said Lt. Col. Steve Mahoney, base operations commander in Kandahar. “[The plan] is in a state of being updated. We’re constantly looking at it because the environment here is always changing.”
At Bagram air base, base operations has devised a five- to eight-year community master plan, in which all U.S. troops will eventually move from the west side of the airfield to the east side, said Lt. Col. Paul Kimbrough, at Bagram base operations.
The U.S.-controlled bases could end up looking similar to those in Kosovo and Bosnia, where soldiers have cappuccino bars and movie theaters, among other extras.
However, Mahoney says, the unstable situation in Afghanistan directly affects how much the command can do to improve living conditions.
“The atmosphere here is much different,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Wevodau, base operations at Bagram. “[Kosovo and Bosnia] are certainly dangerous, but it’s a different situation here. While those places are able to concentrate on quality of life, we still have to consider force protection.
“Here, we have two priorities: support warfighting, and then improve quality of life.”
There are currently about 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and surrounding nations fighting in Operation Enduring Freedom.
While some officials are working on plans to improve infrastructure, others are charting a long-range map for a new government that will allow the United States to declare “mission accomplished,” said a defense official familiar with the long-term planning process for Afghanistan.
“We’re working out a plan of self-government to guide us and eventually allow us to turn over Afghanistan to the Afghan people,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning process is in its infancy. To discuss details would pre-empt plans to have the White House disclose the particulars, the official said.
“We’re in the process of creating a plan that will be based on ... political, economic, and internal security and military law enforcement metrics” that will help create a stable and self-governed nation.
Work on the long-term plan for Afghanistan began in August, the official said. It will be mission- and success-dependent, so theoretically there’s no set timeline.
“These things are dependent on successes of each situation that build upon one another,” the official said. “You can’t have success without meeting certain criteria along the way. ... We can estimate when we will hit certain triggers, but it’s a results-based plan and is not time-dependent.”
U.S. Central Command, which is running missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, has taken the lead in developing the long-range plan for Afghanistan.
CENTCOM spokesmen contacted either were unaware of the planning process, or could not talk about it.
“U.S. Central Command continues to plan in all facets in those theaters in our area of responsibility, and that includes post-conflict planning,” said spokesman Maj. Pete Mitchell.
The Army has short-term plans on troop rotation for the region. In August, soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division began replacing elements from the 82nd Airborne Division. In February, the 25th Infantry Division is slated to replace the 10th Mountain for a six-month deployment.
Beyond that, Army officials aren’t releasing details.
“It’s too early to discuss beyond what was announced [in July] as far as [Operation Enduring Freedom] rotations,” said Army spokeswoman Ali Bettencourt.
“As far as I’m concerned, [the U.S. military] will be here as long as it takes,” said Sgt. Brett Duncan, a Louisiana National Guardsman from Headquarters Support Company, 205th Engineer Battalion. “I think the key is that we don’t turn our backs on [Afghanistan].”
“It sure isn’t going to be a quick fix, that’s for sure,” added Spc. Kyle Roe, 1st Battalion, 130th Aviation Regiment, North Carolina National Guard.
Staff Sgt. Reba Eichhorst, from the 441st Ordnance Battalion in the Alabama National Guard, said five years might not be long enough.
“It really depends on what we’re trying to do,” Eichhorst said. “It will take at least five years just to stabilize this country. It is so far from being stable.”
— Stars and Stripes reporter Sandra Jontz reported from Washington.