BUILDING STRONG® for Afghanistan's security
March 15, 2013
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers builds Afghan National Security Forces facilities including military bases and police stations that provide adequate settings for ANSF to live, work and train.
Since its inception in 2009, each project USACE's Afghanistan Engineer District-South has constructed has been aimed at fostering security and stability for the benefit of Afghans.
Through its Afghan National Security Forces Program, the district completed and transferred to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 31 Afghan National Army facilities valued at about $540 million. Nearly 50 Afghan National Police facilities have been completed and transferred also.
"Armies play a vital role in the defense and stability of any country," said Afghan National Army Major General Taj Mohammed Jahid, commander of the 207th Corps, through an interpreter. "You must have adequate facilities for armies," he said. "Not only do bases provide the location for training and day-to-day operations, but they serve as deterrents to violence. Military bases and the soldiers who inhabit them have a positive effect on neighboring communities because they provide both physical security and peace of mind," Jahid said.
Herat is a prime example.
"We have better security here in Herat then some of our neighboring provinces. That allows people to focus on more than mere survival; on things like building businesses, going to school and leading everyday normal lives," said Jahid, who leads 12,000 troops from his base of operations at Camp Zafar in Herat province.
Camp Zafar is a sprawling base built by an Afghan-owned and operated contractor with oversight by USACE. It has everything from barracks for thousands of soldiers, to armories, gyms, warehouses, a medical clinic and more. It's one of the Afghanistan Engineer District-South's signature projects; tangible evidence the district is putting lead on target.
Thousands of Afghan National Army troops now live, work and train on the base and the camp is currently expanding to accommodate even more troops. Countrywide, Afghan officers and noncommissioned officers mentored by Coalition forces now train most Afghan soldiers. This holds true at Camp Zafar where at the close of 2012, about 85 percent of recruits and soldiers, which include women, received training from Afghan instructors. They train at ranges, courses and classrooms built by USACE.
For U.S. Army Col. Vincent Quarles, commander of the South District, delivering quality and timely construction for his customers and end users is a top priority.
"Afghanistan must determine its own future and the Corps of Engineers, with the construction projects we oversee, is helping to set the conditions for a strong and enduring Afghanistan," said Quarles. "Adequate facilities
that enable the ANSF to serve and protect communities is an important factor in setting those conditions," he said.
More than 100 ANSF projects ranging in size, cost and complexity are slated to be completed by the time the ANSF will assume full responsibility for security throughout Afghanistan in 2014.
With such a high volume of projects, the district has had to grow up fast, explained Quarles.
Prior to 2010, many of the facilities USACE built were traditional concrete masonry units. Construction of a police station used to take about two years. Materials were not easily acquired and certain design features were unfamiliar to some Afghans. Sinks for common Afghan practices such as foot washing before prayer were not included in designs. A team of experts from USACE, the Defense Logistics Agency and GIRoA discussed improvements. The way ahead included employing a more austere and standard design, using government-furnished equipment instead of contractor-furnished equipment, and including features such as squat toilets and ground level sinks that allow for ablutions.
In addition to austere and standardized designs, the type of military construction USACE prefers to build in Afghanistan now is the self-supporting steel arch structure. It's quickly erected, relatively inexpensive, yet reliable. Arch-span structures have attributes that make them ideal because they offer weather-proofing quickly. Once the structure is up, laborers are able to work on the "guts" of the building: mechanical, electric and plumbing, sooner rather than later. The construction requires a commercial, trailer-mounted, automatic building machine, coiled steel and an electric seamer. A crane to lift arch panels into place, concrete form work and a welding are required. The time savings achieved is significant when compared to traditional construction. However, delivering facilities on time and on budget in Afghanistan remains no easy duty. Perhaps the most grueling task for project managers entails keeping aggressive project schedules on track, said Ron Muriera, a senior project engineer with the district's Herat Area Office. Another challenge is logistics, since some supply routes remain dangerous and materials have gotten shot, stolen, or damaged, said Muriera, who deployed from the Seattle District. Site accessibility can be a challenge, too, since a number of construction sites are in remote areas far away from forward operating bases in harsh, mountainous terrain.
"The right mix of people, planning, coordination and commitment by everyone involved, with the common goal of achieving sustainable outcomes for and with the Afghan people has resulted in providing dozens of high-quality installations in strategic locations," said Quarles.
DELIVERING WHAT THE CUSTOMERS WANT, WHAT THE END USERS NEED
On a recent visit to a newly-constructed police headquarters compound near the border with Turkmenistan, Muriera met with Afghan National Police Colonel Noor Mohammad Adel to determine how the facility was operating. The facility was transferred from the U.S. government to the ANP in December of 2012.
"I cannot even begin to explain what a positive effect this facility has had on the policemen and the neighborhood," said Adel through an interpreter. "Before, all we had was an old, decrepit building and some shacks for cooking, sleeping and working. Look what we have now: A proper facility where police can effectively train and operate," he said. "Most of the police are from this town and having such a good facility here makes their morale high. Their families feel safer, too," he said.
Throughout the district's area of operations, USACE engineers, again and again, have overseen construction of barracks, showers, latrines, storage facilities, dining facilities, headquarters facilities, classrooms, obstacle courses, maintenance facilities, training ranges, armories, electrical distribution systems, sanitary sewer collection system, antiterrorism/force protection features, medical clinics and so much more to support the development of the ANSF and advancement of the Afghan people.
"Good communication on all levels across multiple agencies has been the key to being successful," said Muriera.
"We want to set the Afghans up for success," Quarles said. "Building quality facilities, selecting Afghan companies when possible, employing Afghan professionals and mentoring Afghan soldiers, police and civilians in facilities management will go a long way toward that goal," he said.
MENTORING: A TWO-WAY PROCESS
USACE has located and employed dozens of Afghan construction companies and engineering professionals. Since construction workers are most often Afghans and laborers from other developing nations where globally-recognized construction standards may not have been demanded, quality assurance and construction representatives play a critical role. USACE quality assurance and construction representatives provide mentoring to Afghan contractors on the job sites. They visit sites several times a week and when they see a deficiency, they bring it to the attention of the contractor immediately. Since language and cultural differences can often be a barrier, the district supplements USACE personnel with Afghan professionals. Most are engineering graduates of Afghan universities, speak English, inspect project sites and often are the only USACE-affiliated eyes and ears on the ground. At the most remote construction sites, inaccessible to Americans, the Afghan engineers provide construction oversight and report back to USACE with photography, video and professional assessments about progress on construction.
"They can travel throughout the country and spend hours at a project site as often as necessary even when USACE employees cannot," said Nabil Abourialy, a USACE registered professional engineer who serves as the senior civilian at the Herat Area Office in western Afghanistan.
For Quarles, the construction mission is personal.
"As Corps of Engineers personnel, each of us contributes to making life better for Afghans," he said. "Not only do our construction projects enable GIRoA to provide safety and security for its citizens, but they demonstrate to Afghans that the U.S. is committed to building a better future."