U.S. continues Afghanistan construction boom
ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. commander in charge of building an infrastructure for Afghanistan said the U.S. Army is building hundreds of security structures for Afghan national army and police forces, from barracks to entire bases, in advance of an anticipated buildup of those forces.
The announcement comes just days after The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama’s strategy will call for the expansion of Afghan security forces to roughly 400,000 national police and Army personnel, or four times the size of their current force.
But despite completing thousands of miles of roads and billions of dollars in construction projects, there is a long way to go.
"It looks like the 17th century with cars and cell phones," said Col. Thomas E. O’Donovan, who commands the Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan and Central Asia, in a Pentagon briefing Friday.
Afghanistan is in the middle of a construction boom. The Corps has executed $6.5 billion worth of projects since 2004, and contracted for another $3 billion in 2009. It will perform $1.5 billion of construction this year, its biggest yet, O’Donovan said, with between $4-6 billion expected next fiscal year.
The Corps has completed $2 billion worth of projects for Afghan national security forces with another $1.2 billion slated for 2009.
Additionally, they are building border control facilities to stop insurgents and drugs, including facilities for incoming U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation personnel.
Still, security is tough for the more than 18,000 Afghan construction workers the Corps employs, O’Donovan said. Local insurgents, even competing contractors, attack construction sites and materials en route. Cement has to come from Pakistan, he said, while steel comes from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Russia. Fabricated goods such as doorknobs come from as far as China or India.
Along the way, they are all targets. The Corps has 750 miles of roads under construction, with an additional 250 to 350 miles beginning this year.
"It’s very clear to us that the enemy who has attacked us quite a bit over this last year, on our roads projects, have decided that these roads are a threat to them," he said.
And while the construction market is flooded, prices are up, and local talent tapped out, O’Donovan remained optimistic.
"As the saying goes: it’s a Third World country that got bombed back to the Fourth World and they’re working their way out," he said.