Colonel Outlines Construction Hurdles in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — Get­ting a con­struc­tion project up and run­ning — esti­mat­ing costs, approv­ing bud­gets, work­ing with area gov­ern­ments to ensure every aspect of the project meets myr­i­ad spec­i­fi­ca­tions – is thorny enough state­side. Yet, the con­struc­tion projects U.S. Army Col. Mike Wehr over­sees in Afghanistan can be dif­fi­cult for those rea­sons, and then some.

Wehr, the direc­tor of NATO Train­ing Mission–Afghanistan, Com­bined Secu­ri­ty Tran­si­tion Command–Afghanistan’s Com­bined Joint Engi­neer Office, spoke dur­ing an Oct. 7 “DoD Live” Blog­gers Round­table about the dif­fi­cul­ty of build­ing an infra­struc­ture for the Afghan mil­i­tary essen­tial­ly from scratch. 

Total con­struc­tion of infra­struc­ture for a 305,000-strong Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Force is sched­uled to be com­plet­ed some­time in 2014, Wehr said. Between now and then, there’s a lot to do, he added. 

“Essen­tial­ly, we’re about 20 per­cent done,” he said. “The over­all pro­gram for 305,000 troops and police is about $12 bil­lion. And that is a con­struc­tion effort that spans from about 2005 and fin­ish­es out in 2014, in terms of construction.” 

Wehr said the total cost is bro­ken down into three cat­e­gories: about $3 bil­lion in projects have been com­plet­ed so far, anoth­er $2 bil­lion worth is under con­struc­tion, and $7 bil­lion in con­tracts are going to be award­ed in the future. Of that $7 bil­lion, he said, $5.3 bil­lion already has been appropriated. 

The colonel empha­sized the impor­tance of con­struc­tion projects to the over­all mis­sion in Afghanistan. Con­struc­tion mon­ey goes toward build­ing pri­mar­i­ly per­ma­nent struc­tures, he said, that will last decades or more, such as mil­i­tary train­ing cen­ters that may cost more than $30 mil­lion each. 

“It is very dif­fi­cult to have a sus­tain­able force with­out an infra­struc­ture that pro­vides the nec­es­sary resources and com­fort and train­ing and real­ly an archive of infor­ma­tion­al knowl­edge that helps sus­tain the force,” he said. “We tend to take it for grant­ed on occa­sion the insti­tu­tions that we have in our own coun­try. And when you’re build­ing those insti­tu­tions at the same time you are train­ing the peo­ple that will occu­py it, it is def­i­nite­ly a full-con­tact sport.” 

Build­ing dur­ing a coun­terin­sur­gency effort adds dif­fi­cul­ty, Wehr said. The cen­tral ele­ments of coun­terin­sur­gency — clear, hold and build — are some­what mis­nomers, he said, when it comes to con­struc­tion. “Build,” he added, refers pri­mar­i­ly to estab­lish­ing gov­er­nance, not to phys­i­cal struc­tures. Where­as con­struc­tion, he said, usu­al­ly occurs dur­ing the “clear” phase, when com­bat is ongoing. 

As a result, about 38 per­cent of the struc­tures occu­pied by Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces are tem­po­rary, rang­ing from tents to ship­ping con­tain­ers. Anoth­er 38 per­cent are in new, per­ma­nent struc­tures. The oth­er 25 per­cent are in so-called “lega­cy” structures. 

“[Lega­cy struc­tures] could have been built by the Afghans them­selves or the Sovi­ets lat­er, but they are facil­i­ties that were deemed rea­son­able enough to ren­o­vate and make usable,” Wehr said. “That’s always a good solu­tion if it’s rea­son­able to main­tain. The oper­a­tions and main­te­nance of facil­i­ties is cer­tain­ly a cost fac­tor we consider.” 

The Afghan gov­ern­ment plays a large role in decid­ing where and what to build, Wehr said. After all, he said, they’ll be the ones work­ing and liv­ing there in the future. But that deter­mi­na­tion comes from mil­i­tary oper­a­tional deci­sions as well, he added. 

“In oth­er words, where are the forces need­ed, how long will they be there — that’s part of the equa­tion — which then relates to what type of build we’ll have,” Wehr said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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Team GlobDef

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