Kabul se­cu­rity district to be ex­panded

Ten-year project will re­shape city cen­ter and ex­tend Amer­i­can pres­ence

The Dallas Morning News - - World - Rod Nordland, The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — Soon, U.S. Em­bassy em­ploy­ees in Kabul will no longer need to take a Chi­nook he­li­copter ride to cross the street to a mil­i­tary base less than 100 yards out­side the present Green Zone se­cu­rity district.

In­stead, the bound­aries of the Green Zone will be re­drawn to in­clude that base, known as the Kabul City Com­pound, for­merly the head­quar­ters for U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions forces in the cap­i­tal. The zone is sep­a­rated from the rest of the city by a net­work of po­lice, mil­i­tary and pri­vate se­cu­rity check­points.

The ex­pan­sion is part of a huge pub­lic works project that over the next two years will re­shape the cen­ter of this city of 5 mil­lion to bring nearly all Western em­bassies, ma­jor gov­ern­ment min­istries, and NATO and U.S. mil­i­tary head­quar­ters within the pro­tected area.

Af­ter 16 years of Amer­i­can pres­ence in Kabul, it is a stark ac­knowl­edg­ment that even the city’s cen­tral dis­tricts have become too dif­fi­cult to de­fend from Tal­iban bomb­ings.

But the cap­i­tal project is also clearly tak­ing place to pro­tect an­other long-term U.S. in­vest­ment: Along with an in­crease in troops to a re­ported 15,000, from around 11,000 at the mo­ment, the Trump administration’s new strat­egy for Afghanistan is likely to keep the mil­i­tary in place well into the 2020s, even by the most con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates.

No one wants to say when any fi­nal pullout will take place be­cause the em­pha­sis now is on a con­di­tions-based with­drawal — pre­sum­ably mean­ing af­ter the Afghan gov­ern­ment can han­dle the war alone. But Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has kept se­cret the de­tails of those con­di­tions, and how they are de­fined.

“Un­til he says what the con­di­tions are, all that means is we’ll be there as long as we want, for what­ever rea­son we want,” said Bar­nett Ru­bin, a long­time Afghanistan ex­pert who ad­vised the Obama administration. “And they don’t have to lie to do that be­cause the con­di­tions will never be good enough to say we’re ab­so­lutely not needed.”

In prac­ti­cal terms, it means that the U.S. mil­i­tary mis­sion will con­tinue for many more years, de­spite its un­pop­u­lar­ity with the Amer­i­can pub­lic. Many mil­i­tary strate­gists, in the United States and Afghanistan, have al­ready pen­ciled in plans well into the ’20s, and cer­tainly past any Trump re-elec­tion cam­paign.

At the NATO sum­mit meet­ing in War­saw last year, the al­lies, in­clud­ing the United States, agreed to fund the de­vel­op­ment of the Afghan se­cu­rity forces un­til the end of what was termed “the tran­si­tion decade,” mean­ing from 2014, when Afghan forces be­gan to take charge of their own se­cu­rity, un­til 2024.

“I would guess the U.S. has to plan on be­ing in­side Afghanistan for a decade or more in or­der for there to be any type of res­o­lu­tion,” said Bill Rog­gio, editor of

Long War Jour­nal. “It’s def­i­nitely past his first term in of­fice, no two ways about it.”

The Green Zone ex­pan­sion is aimed at mak­ing it pos­si­ble for the United States and its NATO al­lies to re­main in the cap­i­tal with­out fac­ing the risks that have in the past year made Kabul the most dan­ger­ous place in Afghanistan, with more peo­ple killed there than any­where else in the coun­try — mostly from sui­cide bombers.

The Kabul Green Zone ex­pan­sion, which will sig­nif­i­cantly re­strict ac­cess, was prompted, ac­cord­ing to both Afghan and U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, by a huge sui­cide bomb planted in a sewage truck that ex­ploded at a gate of the cur­rent Green Zone on May 31, de­stroy­ing most of the Ger­man Em­bassy and killing more than 150 peo­ple.

Andrew Quilty/The New York Times

An Afghan po­lice of­fi­cer sur­veyed dam­age from a re­cent truck bomb near sev­eral em­bassies in Kabul, Afghanistan. A ma­jor pub­lic works project over the next two years will re­shape the city’s cen­tral dis­tricts that have become too dif­fi­cult to de­fend from Tal­iban bomb­ings.

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