Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Building for Eternity? The Issue of the US Afghan Bases (amended)

Thomas Ruttig 18 min

Will the US really withdraw (most of its) its troops – those who will not be rebranded ‘trainers’ and advisors’ like in Iraq – by 2014? Is general Petraeus following his own timeline? For sure, the US is planning to keep (some of) its bases in Afghanistan, and it is expanding them rapidly. A US Senator’s open statement has pulled the issue of the bases into the open at the very beginning of the New Year. AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig looks at the debate and also – with some help – on the bases themselves.

When I drove down from Paktia back to Kabul after the elections last year, we suddenly had to make a detour in Southern Logar, in an area called Padkhwab. Hesco walls indicating a US forces base already had accompanied us for a few kilometers but then they simply turned left and cut though the tarmac strip of the road. Firewood lorries, yellow-white taxis and everyone else, including us, were simply forced to take a deviation around it through the desert. At least, the Americans had asphalted it; the people of Gardez had to make it over a dusty track for years when the US PRT and the neighbouring Special Forces simply decided to block the main road to Khost in 2003 or so because it lead right through between the two mud-walled compounds they had hired.

The funny thing is: Never anyone had mentioned the expansion of this base to me before. The base had been there, to the side of the road, since a long time. But by now, it had crept right over the Kabul-Gardez highway which is not just any road in Afghanistan but one of its major ones, besides the so-called ring-road. Maybe, Afghans are too much used to the Americans just building what- and wherever they want (I assume that there must have been an okay from the Kabul government; everything else would really be inexplicable), and civilian foreigners simply do not travel that road often enough anymore so that they simply had not realized what was happening.

The massive expansion work going on in a number of US bases in Afghanistan – as well as that of the US Embassy compound in Kabul which has closed another major road, in the capital – seems to fly into the face of the announcement that President Obama will start to cut down on US troops beginning this July. It simply looks as if many of these structures will be there forever.

One who has intensively looked at this aspect of the still ongoing US surge is Nick Turse, an award-winning journalist and blogger. He has browsed what he calls ‘little-noticed U.S. government records and publications’ and compiled information from newspapers and blogs on the issue. We have put his text ‘Digging in for the Long Haul in Afghanistan’ on our ‘recommended reading’ list last year (and here is the link again), but it deserves to be summarised here.

The long list of US military installations starts with what Turse calls the ‘mega-bases’ every child in Afghanistan knows: the ones in Bagram, Kabul’s former civilian airport turned into a military base by the Soviets more than 30 years ago, and Kandahar Air Field (KAF) with its board-walk with outlets of Pizza Hut and the Horton’s coffee chain as well as Afghan-run souvenir shops and, believe it or not, an ice hockey ring in the middle. It is a city in itself, and the other countries’ military contingents active in Southern Afghanistan have their own little national enclaves there. If you stand on tiptoe you can even see Kandahar’s mountains, i.e. the outside world. Not many of the soldiers based there, go there, though and it is actually really difficult to leave the base walking (not to talk about getting back this way).

Between them, there is a large but unknown number of Forward Operation Bases (FOBs) that, as Turse puts it, ‘dot’ Afghanistan’s countryside. Some are really big, bigger than the term FOB suggests and of immense strategic importance: Shindand in the far west, south of Herat and close to the Iranian border, and Camp Salerno in Khost, close to the other Afghan neighbour, Pakistan. And not to forget: the military part of Kabul International Airport, KAIA in short – in order to avoid the terrible acronym KIA, for ‘killed in action’.

Turse says that the US military says that it ‘does not count the exact number of FOBs’ – well, I am sure it does but it doesn’t tell us. (And you can find a [full?] list with satellite images here). All the same, ISAF gave him some interesting statistics:

‘77% [of the bases in Afghanistan] house units of battalion size (approximately 500 to 1,000 troops) or smaller; 20% are occupied by units smaller than a Brigade Combat Team (about 3,000 troops); and 3% 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.’

Like the KAF boardwalk.

Turse also was told that ISAF ‘does not centrally track its base construction and up-grading work, nor the money spent on such projects’. Well, again… But he did not give up anyway and came up with the following: Major General Kenneth S. Dowd who was the Director of Logistics for the US Central Command for three years till June 2010 told Army Sustainment, the official logistics journal of the Army that:

‘Military construction projects scheduled for com¬pletion 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 air-field 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.’

Camp Salerno, Turse found elsewhere, will get upgrades in its fuel storage capacity in order ‘to enhance land and air operations’ with estimated costs of $10 million to $25 million. Similar extension work is planned for FOB Tarinkot (NATO likes to spell it Tarin Kowt) in Uruzgan, FOB Sharana in Paktika, FOB Shindand and FOB Frontenac in Arghandab (Kandahar, have a look at it here and at some of the others here).

According to another of his sources (Walter Pincus of the Washington Post), FOB Dwyer, a Marine base in Helmand Province, is amongst three projects of at least $100 million investment, ‘not expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011.’ This includes, amongst other measures, the expansion of the helicopter operations infrastructure.

Turse finally also found ‘my’ Logar base: It is called FOB Shank, and expansion work was completed there in June for a new, nearly $12 million and 1.4-mile-long runway that

‘can now accommodate large Lockheed C-130 Hercules and Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft, enabling ever larger numbers of personnel to be deployed to the site. Not surprisingly, government documents released in August show that FOB Shank is also set for a major boost in troop housing. ‘Already home to approximately 4,500 military personnel, it will be adding a new two-story barracks, constructed of containerized housing units known as “relocatable buildings” or RLBs, to accommodate 1,100 more troops. Support facilities, access roads, parking areas, new utilities, and other infrastructure required to sustain the housing complex will also be installed for an estimated $5 million to $10 million. In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers just began seeking contractors to add 452,000 square feet of airfield parking space at the base. It’s meant for Special Operations Forces’ helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. New aircraft maintenance facilities and 80,000 square feet more of taxiways will also be built at the cost of another $10 million to $25 million.’

This explains the long hesco wall creeping across the road.

Furthermore, the US Army has plans to build

‘a 24,000 square-foot, $10-million command-and-control facility as well as a “Joint Defense Operations Center” with supporting amenities at Bagram Air Base’ and already has expanded the Marines base Camp Leatherneck (next to the British Cam Bastion in the Helmand desert) in late 2009 ‘from a 660-acre facility to 1,550 acres, or approximately 2.4 square miles […] with three new gyms to the one already there, as well as a chapel complex with three separate buildings (one big enough to accommodate up to 200 people), a second mess hall (capable of serving 4,000 Marines at a time), a new PX housed in a big-top tent, with 10,000 square feet of sales space — the current base facility only has 3,000 square feet — and the installation of a $200 million runway’.

Another lesser known but apparently very important one is the US Army’s Special Operations headquarters at German-led RC North Mazar-e-Sharif (Camp Marmal) that will receive a new

‘communications building, Tactical Operations Center, training facility, medical aid station, Vehicle Maintenance Facility… dining facility, laundry facility, and a kennel to support working dogs’.

Among the military, there does not seem to be too much qualm about President Obama’s withdrawal plan. Turse reports that ‘recently, the Army sought bids from contractors willing to supply power plants and supporting fuel systems at forward operating bases in Afghanistan for up to five years[his emphasis]’. He concludes that

‘these facts-on-the-ground indicate that, whatever timelines for phased withdrawal may be issued in Washington, the U.S. military is focused on building up, not drawing down, in Afghanistan.’

And this is, by the way, what the Wall Street Journal just has reported (read the full article ‘U.S. Seeks to Keep Afghan Troop Strength’ here):

‘U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan are seeking ways to maintain the level of combat troops there, even as they make plans to cut the overall number of American personnel to meet the White House’s mandate to start shipping out forces by summer.

‘Under one early proposal, commanders in Afghanistan would cut from 5,000 to 10,000 staff positions, maintenance personnel and intelligence analysts. But the number of Army and Marine infantry would be untouched, as would brigade and battalion headquarters.’

This looks like a Petraeus, not an Obama timeline. Turse suggests that

‘if you want to ask hard questions about America’s Afghan War, start with those bases’.

This is already beginning. On 2 January, Lindsay Graham, a Republican Senator from South Carolina, helpfully has made the issue of US bases public and the Taleban officially aware. The Senator told US media that

‘[t]he idea of putting permanent military bases on the table in 2011, I think, would secure our national interests and tell the bad guys and the good guy we’re not leaving, we are staying. […] We’ve had airbases all over the world. A couple of air bases in Afghanistan would allow the Afghan security forces an edge against the Taliban in perpetuity. It would be a signal to Pakistan that the Taliban are never going to come back in Afghanistan.’

In an earlier statement, last year, he actually mentioned

‘two airbases that would be beneficial to the Afghan security forces’ (readall his quotes here).

As could be expected, this did not go unheard. The Taleban reacted with an official statement of their spokesman on 4 January on their alemarahwebsite stating that the Senator’s

‘speech lifts the curtain from America’s colonialist intentions of which the Islamic Emirate has tried to make the international community aware over the past ten years. […] The erection of permanent bases means the perpetuation of the current occupation and will be inacceptable by any Muslim and patriotic Afghan […]. The [Taleban’s] mujahedin will continue fighting […] till Afghanistan will stand again as an independent country in the line of the free peoples of the world’.

The statement also calls the bases plan a sign that the US ‘war against terror was staged’ and its ‘actual aim was the occupation of Afghanistan’.

Interestingly enough, the Taleban also hold a bait in front of the Americans. The 7-point statement reads further that

‘after the independence of the country, we are ready to enter into transparent bilateral treaties about the extraction of [Afghanistan’s] natural resources’ (find the full statement, in Pashto, here).

The Kabul government, by the way, denied all talks about bases, [amended:] at least officially:

‘We have announced earlier that we are in touch with United States on the issue of long-term strategic partnership but not on the possible establishment of a permanent U.S. base in Afghanistan’ (quoted here).

[amended:] As wikileaked documents show, however, internally it sounds differently, as a cable dated shows (the relevant part is not in italics):

‘8. (S) Karzai raised next the idea of a Jirga after his possible first-round or second-round victory as a method of unifying the country. I stated that, frankly, Americans could not pass judgement on the cultural impact and message of such an event. His next comment, however, gave a specific reason: using the Jirga to “restart” the relationship between the Afghans and the international community, to accept their longtime presence. I said that this statement underscores a certain lack of understanding of the message I have conveyed previously: the Obama Administration’s goal, and that of the American people and Congress, is not to be in Afghanistan indefinitely. We need a plan for how the Afghan National Security Forces can, with our assistance, take up their full responsibilities. (Note: The day before, Karzai told a visiting CODEL that Afghanistan would only take the lead in its own security operations after receiving advanced military weapons, and then only after “five years or ten years… we want you here forever”; he offered Bagram and Kandahar as permanent bases. End Note)’[end of amendment].(*)

Whatever the US and the Karzai government’s intensions on this are: In the current atmosphere of widespread mistrust with the US and its allies amongst Afghans, far beyond the Taleban (but the Taleban statement quoted above appeals to this mistrust(**)), it must be clear to everyone that Washington will never be able to sell any number of remaining bases to them – as a ‘withdrawal’.

If the Western allies really want to leave Afghanistan, they should listen to veteran Afghanistan watcher Selig S. Harrison who already argued in an article for Foreign Policy in August 2010 (‘How to Leave Afghanistan Without Losing’, read it in full here) that also

‘regional neighbors have no desire to legitimate an enduring U.S. presence in the country — particularly with regards to the U.S. air bases now being used for intelligence surveillance missions in areas of Afghanistan bordering Russia, China, [Pakistan] and Iran’.

Therefore, he proposed a:

‘U.N. diplomatic initiative designed to get the regional neighbors to join in a multilateral agreement providing for the military neutralization of Afghanistan and for sustained regional support as the country stabilizes. The agreement would set a timetable providing not only for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO combat forces within three years, but also for the termination of U.S. military access to bases in Afghanistan, including air bases [my emphasis], within five years’.

Okay, the exact timelines maybe still need to be discussed.
(*) The cable from which this is quoted is not available on wikileaks for some reason (but AAN has a copy). The reason might be an apparent misspelling of the cable’e date: 2029 instead of – most lilely – 2009. The cable’s head is as follows:

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/08/2029
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, AF
SUBJECT: KARZAI THE CANDIDATE GIVES KARZAI THE PRESIDENT A
BETTER PERSECTIVE

It is signed by Ambassador Eikenberry.

(**) The Taleban’s interest might overlap with Pakistan’s on this: The bases the US is so eager to keep might not so much aim at Afghanistan – where Washington, after its partial or full withdrawal, might plan to return to its initial post-2001 position not to engage in green-on-green, i.e. Afghan factional, fighting – but at Pakistan. As the Washington Post recently wrote, Pakistan’s chief commander General Kayani told local journalists recently that he doesn’t trust the US because the ‘real aim of U.S. strategy [and its bases] is to de-nuclearize Pakistan’ (Karin Brulliard and Karen DeYoung,‘U.S. efforts fail to convince Pakistan’s top general to target Taliban’,Washington Post, 31 December 2010).

Will the US really withdraw (most of its) its troops – those who will not be rebranded ‘trainers’ and advisors’ like in Iraq – by 2014? Is general Petraeus following his own timeline? For sure, the US is planning to keep (some of) its bases in Afghanistan, and it is expanding them rapidly. A US Senator’s open statement has pulled the issue of the bases into the open at the very beginning of the New Year. AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig looks at the debate and also – with some help – on the bases themselves.

When I drove down from Paktia back to Kabul after the elections last year, we suddenly had to make a detour in Southern Logar, in an area called Padkhwab. Hesco walls indicating a US forces base already had accompanied us for a few kilometers but then they simply turned left and cut though the tarmac strip of the road. Firewood lorries, yellow-white taxis and everyone else, including us, were simply forced to take a deviation around it through the desert. At least, the Americans had asphalted it; the people of Gardez had to make it over a dusty track for years when the US PRT and the neighbouring Special Forces simply decided to block the main road to Khost in 2003 or so because it lead right through between the two mud-walled compounds they had hired.

The funny thing is: Never anyone had mentioned the expansion of this base to me before. The base had been there, to the side of the road, since a long time. But by now, it had crept right over the Kabul-Gardez highway which is not just any road in Afghanistan but one of its major ones, besides the so-called ring-road. Maybe, Afghans are too much used to the Americans just building what- and wherever they want (I assume that there must have been an okay from the Kabul government; everything else would really be inexplicable), and civilian foreigners simply do not travel that road often enough anymore so that they simply had not realized what was happening.

The massive expansion work going on in a number of US bases in Afghanistan – as well as that of the US Embassy compound in Kabul which has closed another major road, in the capital – seems to fly into the face of the announcement that President Obama will start to cut down on US troops beginning this July. It simply looks as if many of these structures will be there forever.

One who has intensively looked at this aspect of the still ongoing US surge is Nick Turse, an award-winning journalist and blogger. He has browsed what he calls ‘little-noticed U.S. government records and publications’ and compiled information from newspapers and blogs on the issue. We have put his text ‘Digging in for the Long Haul in Afghanistan’ on our ‘recommended reading’ list last year (and here is the link again), but it deserves to be summarised here.

The long list of US military installations starts with what Turse calls the ‘mega-bases’ every child in Afghanistan knows: the ones in Bagram, Kabul’s former civilian airport turned into a military base by the Soviets more than 30 years ago, and Kandahar Air Field (KAF) with its board-walk with outlets of Pizza Hut and the Horton’s coffee chain as well as Afghan-run souvenir shops and, believe it or not, an ice hockey ring in the middle. It is a city in itself, and the other countries’ military contingents active in Southern Afghanistan have their own little national enclaves there. If you stand on tiptoe you can even see Kandahar’s mountains, i.e. the outside world. Not many of the soldiers based there, go there, though and it is actually really difficult to leave the base walking (not to talk about getting back this way).

Between them, there is a large but unknown number of Forward Operation Bases (FOBs) that, as Turse puts it, ‘dot’ Afghanistan’s countryside. Some are really big, bigger than the term FOB suggests and of immense strategic importance: Shindand in the far west, south of Herat and close to the Iranian border, and Camp Salerno in Khost, close to the other Afghan neighbour, Pakistan. And not to forget: the military part of Kabul International Airport, KAIA in short – in order to avoid the terrible acronym KIA, for ‘killed in action’.

Turse says that the US military says that it ‘does not count the exact number of FOBs’ – well, I am sure it does but it doesn’t tell us. (And you can find a [full?] list with satellite images here). All the same, ISAF gave him some interesting statistics:

‘77% [of the bases in Afghanistan] house units of battalion size (approximately 500 to 1,000 troops) or smaller; 20% are occupied by units smaller than a Brigade Combat Team (about 3,000 troops); and 3% 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.’

Like the KAF boardwalk.

Turse also was told that ISAF ‘does not centrally track its base construction and up-grading work, nor the money spent on such projects’. Well, again… But he did not give up anyway and came up with the following: Major General Kenneth S. Dowd who was the Director of Logistics for the US Central Command for three years till June 2010 told Army Sustainment, the official logistics journal of the Army that:

‘Military construction projects scheduled for com¬pletion 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 air-field 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.’

Camp Salerno, Turse found elsewhere, will get upgrades in its fuel storage capacity in order ‘to enhance land and air operations’ with estimated costs of $10 million to $25 million. Similar extension work is planned for FOB Tarinkot (NATO likes to spell it Tarin Kowt) in Uruzgan, FOB Sharana in Paktika, FOB Shindand and FOB Frontenac in Arghandab (Kandahar, have a look at it here and at some of the others here).

According to another of his sources (Walter Pincus of the Washington Post), FOB Dwyer, a Marine base in Helmand Province, is amongst three projects of at least $100 million investment, ‘not expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011.’ This includes, amongst other measures, the expansion of the helicopter operations infrastructure.

Turse finally also found ‘my’ Logar base: It is called FOB Shank, and expansion work was completed there in June for a new, nearly $12 million and 1.4-mile-long runway that

‘can now accommodate large Lockheed C-130 Hercules and Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft, enabling ever larger numbers of personnel to be deployed to the site. Not surprisingly, government documents released in August show that FOB Shank is also set for a major boost in troop housing. ‘Already home to approximately 4,500 military personnel, it will be adding a new two-story barracks, constructed of containerized housing units known as “relocatable buildings” or RLBs, to accommodate 1,100 more troops. Support facilities, access roads, parking areas, new utilities, and other infrastructure required to sustain the housing complex will also be installed for an estimated $5 million to $10 million. In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers just began seeking contractors to add 452,000 square feet of airfield parking space at the base. It’s meant for Special Operations Forces’ helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. New aircraft maintenance facilities and 80,000 square feet more of taxiways will also be built at the cost of another $10 million to $25 million.’

This explains the long hesco wall creeping across the road.

Furthermore, the US Army has plans to build

‘a 24,000 square-foot, $10-million command-and-control facility as well as a “Joint Defense Operations Center” with supporting amenities at Bagram Air Base’ and already has expanded the Marines base Camp Leatherneck (next to the British Cam Bastion in the Helmand desert) in late 2009 ‘from a 660-acre facility to 1,550 acres, or approximately 2.4 square miles […] with three new gyms to the one already there, as well as a chapel complex with three separate buildings (one big enough to accommodate up to 200 people), a second mess hall (capable of serving 4,000 Marines at a time), a new PX housed in a big-top tent, with 10,000 square feet of sales space — the current base facility only has 3,000 square feet — and the installation of a $200 million runway’.

Another lesser known but apparently very important one is the US Army’s Special Operations headquarters at German-led RC North Mazar-e-Sharif (Camp Marmal) that will receive a new

‘communications building, Tactical Operations Center, training facility, medical aid station, Vehicle Maintenance Facility… dining facility, laundry facility, and a kennel to support working dogs’.

Among the military, there does not seem to be too much qualm about President Obama’s withdrawal plan. Turse reports that ‘recently, the Army sought bids from contractors willing to supply power plants and supporting fuel systems at forward operating bases in Afghanistan for up to five years[his emphasis]’. He concludes that

‘these facts-on-the-ground indicate that, whatever timelines for phased withdrawal may be issued in Washington, the U.S. military is focused on building up, not drawing down, in Afghanistan.’

And this is, by the way, what the Wall Street Journal just has reported (read the full article ‘U.S. Seeks to Keep Afghan Troop Strength’ here):

‘U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan are seeking ways to maintain the level of combat troops there, even as they make plans to cut the overall number of American personnel to meet the White House’s mandate to start shipping out forces by summer.

‘Under one early proposal, commanders in Afghanistan would cut from 5,000 to 10,000 staff positions, maintenance personnel and intelligence analysts. But the number of Army and Marine infantry would be untouched, as would brigade and battalion headquarters.’

This looks like a Petraeus, not an Obama timeline. Turse suggests that

‘if you want to ask hard questions about America’s Afghan War, start with those bases’.

This is already beginning. On 2 January, Lindsay Graham, a Republican Senator from South Carolina, helpfully has made the issue of US bases public and the Taleban officially aware. The Senator told US media that

‘[t]he idea of putting permanent military bases on the table in 2011, I think, would secure our national interests and tell the bad guys and the good guy we’re not leaving, we are staying. […] We’ve had airbases all over the world. A couple of air bases in Afghanistan would allow the Afghan security forces an edge against the Taliban in perpetuity. It would be a signal to Pakistan that the Taliban are never going to come back in Afghanistan.’

In an earlier statement, last year, he actually mentioned

‘two airbases that would be beneficial to the Afghan security forces’ (readall his quotes here).

As could be expected, this did not go unheard. The Taleban reacted with an official statement of their spokesman on 4 January on their alemarahwebsite stating that the Senator’s

‘speech lifts the curtain from America’s colonialist intentions of which the Islamic Emirate has tried to make the international community aware over the past ten years. […] The erection of permanent bases means the perpetuation of the current occupation and will be inacceptable by any Muslim and patriotic Afghan […]. The [Taleban’s] mujahedin will continue fighting […] till Afghanistan will stand again as an independent country in the line of the free peoples of the world’.

The statement also calls the bases plan a sign that the US ‘war against terror was staged’ and its ‘actual aim was the occupation of Afghanistan’.

Interestingly enough, the Taleban also hold a bait in front of the Americans. The 7-point statement reads further that

‘after the independence of the country, we are ready to enter into transparent bilateral treaties about the extraction of [Afghanistan’s] natural resources’ (find the full statement, in Pashto, here).

The Kabul government, by the way, denied all talks about bases, [amended:] at least officially:

‘We have announced earlier that we are in touch with United States on the issue of long-term strategic partnership but not on the possible establishment of a permanent U.S. base in Afghanistan’ (quoted here).

[amended:] As wikileaked documents show, however, internally it sounds differently, as a cable dated shows (the relevant part is not in italics):

‘8. (S) Karzai raised next the idea of a Jirga after his possible first-round or second-round victory as a method of unifying the country. I stated that, frankly, Americans could not pass judgement on the cultural impact and message of such an event. His next comment, however, gave a specific reason: using the Jirga to “restart” the relationship between the Afghans and the international community, to accept their longtime presence. I said that this statement underscores a certain lack of understanding of the message I have conveyed previously: the Obama Administration’s goal, and that of the American people and Congress, is not to be in Afghanistan indefinitely. We need a plan for how the Afghan National Security Forces can, with our assistance, take up their full responsibilities. (Note: The day before, Karzai told a visiting CODEL that Afghanistan would only take the lead in its own security operations after receiving advanced military weapons, and then only after “five years or ten years… we want you here forever”; he offered Bagram and Kandahar as permanent bases. End Note)’[end of amendment].(*)

Whatever the US and the Karzai government’s intensions on this are: In the current atmosphere of widespread mistrust with the US and its allies amongst Afghans, far beyond the Taleban (but the Taleban statement quoted above appeals to this mistrust(**)), it must be clear to everyone that Washington will never be able to sell any number of remaining bases to them – as a ‘withdrawal’.

If the Western allies really want to leave Afghanistan, they should listen to veteran Afghanistan watcher Selig S. Harrison who already argued in an article for Foreign Policy in August 2010 (‘How to Leave Afghanistan Without Losing’, read it in full here) that also

‘regional neighbors have no desire to legitimate an enduring U.S. presence in the country — particularly with regards to the U.S. air bases now being used for intelligence surveillance missions in areas of Afghanistan bordering Russia, China, [Pakistan] and Iran’.

Therefore, he proposed a:

‘U.N. diplomatic initiative designed to get the regional neighbors to join in a multilateral agreement providing for the military neutralization of Afghanistan and for sustained regional support as the country stabilizes. The agreement would set a timetable providing not only for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO combat forces within three years, but also for the termination of U.S. military access to bases in Afghanistan, including air bases [my emphasis], within five years’.

Okay, the exact timelines maybe still need to be discussed.
(*) The cable from which this is quoted is not available on wikileaks for some reason (but AAN has a copy). The reason might be an apparent misspelling of the cable’e date: 2029 instead of – most lilely – 2009. The cable’s head is as follows:

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/08/2029
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, AF
SUBJECT: KARZAI THE CANDIDATE GIVES KARZAI THE PRESIDENT A
BETTER PERSECTIVE

It is signed by Ambassador Eikenberry.

(**) The Taleban’s interest might overlap with Pakistan’s on this: The bases the US is so eager to keep might not so much aim at Afghanistan – where Washington, after its partial or full withdrawal, might plan to return to its initial post-2001 position not to engage in green-on-green, i.e. Afghan factional, fighting – but at Pakistan. As the Washington Post recently wrote, Pakistan’s chief commander General Kayani told local journalists recently that he doesn’t trust the US because the ‘real aim of U.S. strategy [and its bases] is to de-nuclearize Pakistan’ (Karin Brulliard and Karen DeYoung,‘U.S. efforts fail to convince Pakistan’s top general to target Taliban’,Washington Post, 31 December 2010).

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