The city of Mazar-e-Sharif rests in the middle of what used to be Northern Alliance territory in Afghanistan, dominated by ethnic Tajiks, Turkomen, and Uzbeks, and far from the major fighting among the Pashtun-heavy areas to the south. With the northern part of Afghanistan mainly secured, the late Richard Holbrooke proposed in 2009 to build a consulate quickly in the area’s most important city, as a means of expressing American commitment to the country. Three years later, the project mostly demonstrates American incompetence and wasteful attitude towards funding, and the project looks permanently derailed:
After signing a 10-year lease and spending more than $80 million on a site envisioned as the United States’ diplomatic hub in northern Afghanistan, American officials say they have abandoned their plans, deeming the location for the proposed compound too dangerous.
Eager to raise an American flag and open a consulate in a bustling downtown district of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, officials in 2009 sought waivers to stringent State Department building rules and overlooked significant security problems at the site, documents show. The problems included relying on local building techniques that made the compound vulnerable to a car bombing, according to an assessment by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that was obtained by The Washington Post.
Be sure to read it all, as it is a tale of incompetence and corner-cutting, but there are a couple of points to highlight. First, the geniuses in charge of the project managed to pick the one spot surrounded by panoramic high ground. The overlook of the consulate location from high vantage points goes 360 degrees. But even worse, the location gave no way for US forces to respond effectively in an emergency:
“The entire compound is surrounded by buildings with overwatch and there is almost no space on the compound that cannot be watched, or fired upon, from an elevated position outside the compound,” Kelly wrote.
Responding effectively to an emergency at the consulate would be next to impossible, Kelly noted, because the facility does not have space for a Black Hawk helicopter to land. It would take a military emergency response team 11 / 2 to 2 hours to reach the site “under good conditions,” he said.
The construction issues could have been fixed. The decision to park an American consulate in such a location suggests a special kind of stupid that could easily have been fatal had plans continued through to fruition. As it is, the US now will own a lease on this spot for the next several years, with no purpose whatsoever, and $80 million has been flushed down the drain. On top of that, we now look weak and vacillating in an area where sentiment towards the US should have been positive.
Update: And here’s more good news:
As 10,000 U.S. troops prepare to leave the Afghanistan over the next six months, two top lawmakers, just back from a trip to the region, on the House and Senate Intelligence Committee said they are concerned that the Taliban is growing stronger.
“I think we both say that what we found is the Taliban is stronger,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, agreed with her assessment.
This display of weakness won’t help, either.