J.P. Lawrence writes on what we’ve left behind in the form of ex-American military base in Afghanistan, and what it reveals about our approach to our presence there:
Limping as he climbed the stairs of a watchtower, the general turned his gaze south toward a once-sprawling base the Americans handed over to Afghan forces here in late 2014. Today much of it lies in ruins.
“Everything went to pieces,” Brig. Gen. Abdul Raziq Safi said of the base, which the Americans dubbed Forward Operating Base Shank. “Everything fell apart.”
After more than 17 years and $80 billion to build them up, Afghan security forces still struggle to secure their country, while corruption and other challenges strain their ability to maintain equipment and facilities provided by foreign forces, largely the United States.
FOB Shank’s fate — left to rot in the hands of overwhelmed Afghans — illustrates those challenges…
Roaming packs of feral dogs now bed down at what was once Shank’s busy helicopter landing pad. Crows pick over scrap heaps amid metal tent skeletons whose torn plastic skins whip in the wind. Snow blows through collapsed walls of wood huts that once housed military offices.
As more Americans have been pushed out to Dahlke to advise front line units in the past year, U.S. troops have forayed into the wasteland to reclaim abandoned equipment, such as heaters and generators.
“You drive through and it’s like the ‘Walking Dead,’” 1st Lt. Tom Kopec, 26, a soldier in the 1st Cavalry Regiment, said in December. …
Even with a base full of troops, Safi couldn’t afford to maintain it, he said, claiming the facilities are too costly to run. Everything the Americans left requires power, he said, even bathroom door locks his troops have replaced with ordinary padlocks.
Despite $2 billion in U.S.-funded power projects, Afghanistan’s grid remains underdeveloped and unreliable, and bases often depend on electric generators to power lights, heaters and other equipment.
For just one of the big tents now rotting in Zombieland, the Americans would burn about 80 gallons of fuel a night, said Safi, who spent hours one January morning searching room to room in his headquarters for a working heater.
“Where are Afghans supposed to get that much fuel?” Safi asked. He said later: “The Americans, money has no value for them.” …
“We were being less than truthful with ourselves that the Afghans would be able to take care of these bases,” [retired General Richard P.] Mills said.