This piece originally appeared in TomDispatch.
Some go by names steeped in military tradition like Leatherneck and Geronimo. Many sound fake-tough, like Ramrod, Lightning, Cobra and Wolverine. Some display a local flavor, like Orgun-E, Howz-e-Madad and Kunduz. All, however, have one thing in common: they are US and allied forward operating bases, also known as FOBs. They are part of a base-building surge that has left the countryside of Afghanistan dotted with military posts, themselves expanding all the time, despite the draw-down of forces promised by President Obama beginning in July 2011.
The US military does not count the exact number of FOBs it has built in Afghanistan, but forward operating bases and other facilities of similar or smaller size make up the bulk of US outposts there. Of the hundreds of US bases in the country, according to Gary Younger, a US public affairs officer with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), 77 percent house units of battalion size (approximately 500 to 1,000 troops) or smaller; 20 percent are occupied by units smaller than a Brigade Combat Team (about 3,000 troops); and 3 percent are huge bases, occupied by units larger than a Brigade Combat Team, that generally boast large-scale military command-and-control capabilities and all the amenities of Anytown, USA. Younger tells TomDispatch that ISAF does not centrally track its base construction and up-grading work, nor the money spent on such projects.
However, Major General Kenneth S. Dowd—the Director of Logistics for US Central Command for three years before leaving the post in June—offered this partial account of the ongoing Afghan base build-up in the September/October issue of Army Sustainment, the official logistics journal of the Army:
"Military construction projects scheduled for completion over the next 12 months will deliver 4 new runways, ramp space for 8 C−17 transports, and parking for 50 helicopters and 24 close air support and 26 intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. This represents roughly one-third of the airfield paving projects currently funded in the Afghanistan theater of operations. Additional minor construction plans called for the construction of over 12 new FOBs and expansion of 18 existing FOBs."
If Dowd offered the barest sketch of some of the projects planned or underway, a TomDispatch analysis of little-noticed US government records and publications, including US Army and Army Corps of Engineers contracting documents and construction-bid solicitations issued over the last five months, fills in the picture. The documents reveal plans for large-scale, expensive Afghan base expansions of every sort and a military that is expecting to pursue its building boom without letup well into the future. These facts-on-the-ground indicate that, whatever timelines for phased withdrawal may be issued in Washington, the US military is focused on building up, not drawing down, in Afghanistan.
Jobs on FOBs
A typical forward operating base set to undergo expansion is FOB Salerno, a post located near the Afghan city of Khost, not far from the Pakistani border. According to documents from the US Army Corps of Engineers, plans are in the works for an expansion of that base’s fuel facilities. Estimated to cost $10 million to $25 million, these upgrades will increase fuel storage capacity to one million gallons to enhance land and air operations, and may not be completed for a year and a half; that is, until well into 2012.