Colonel Outlines Construction Hurdles in Afghanistan
By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2010 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.