| ||U.S. nixes larger office for Afghan defense minister|
The Washington Post
By Joshua Partlow
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KABUL - The United States is spending $92 million to build Afghanistan a new “Pentagon,” a massive five-story military headquarters with domed roofs and a high-tech basement command center that will link Afghan generals with their troops fighting the Taliban across the country.
But when Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak asked for a bigger office in the building — a change that would cost about $300,000 — he got a firm “no” in response. These types of changes cost time and money, U.S. military officials said, and in Afghanistan, both are in ever-shorter supply.
“We could do them, but we’re not going to do them,” Col. Andrew Backus, the director of engineering for the NATO command in charge of training and equipping the Afghan security forces, said of the Afghans’ proposed revisions. “What we’re going to do is finish the project with strict change control and turn it over to the Afghans. And if they want to change it, then they can change it.”
The military headquarters building is one of the most prominent public symbols of America’s ongoing financial commitment to Afghanistan. Even at this late stage of the war, with American troops beginning their withdrawal, the U.S. government is still working its way through a $10 billion menu of construction projects aimed at bolstering the Afghan security forces, more than half of which have yet to be completed.
In addition to the Defense Ministry headquarters, the United States is building a $54 million Kabul headquarters for the Interior Ministry, which oversees the Afghan police, as well as a $102 million base for the military’s 201st Corps in eastern Afghanistan.
But with strict timelines and eroding domestic support for the war, U.S. military officials say there’s little room for revising what remains to be done.
“We are taking a firm stance with a set of disciplined business rules on change control,” Backus said. “That’s our approach.”
That policy has already been tested at a high level with Afghanistan’s Pentagon. Rising amid Kabul’s dusty streets, the 516,000-square-foot edifice, still cloaked in scaffolds and cranes, dwarfs other buildings in town.
“Once it’s finished, it will be a permanent and a very significant illustration of the U.S. support for Afghanistan,” Wardak, the defense minister, said in an interview. “And we needed it.”
But Wardak said he asked for two changes to the plan, one involving a conference room and the other his office. The current configuration, with his staff situated in an adjacent room, would require dignitaries to wade through a crowd of people to get to him, he said. “I have 100 or something staff. They wanted all of them to be crowded near my office. I didn’t want them close,” he said. “That was one objection.”
U.S. military officials said the office planned for the minister — which had been agreed to by the Afghans — is about 1,400 square feet, and the proposed changes would have doubled its size, as well as given the minister direct access to an elevator. A more costly proposal, to expand the basement command center from 4,000 to 6,000 square feet, would have cost $4 million and delayed the completion, now expected for early next year, Backus said. “We’re resisting that change as well,” he said.
Wardak said he is not interested in a lavish setting. And after eight years in his job, and more than 30 years as a soldier — fighting the Soviets as an insurgent and the Taliban as a counter-insurgent — he doesn’t envision spending much time in the new building before he retires.
“I’m not somebody to be very luxurious or something like that. I have never sat on that chair,” he said, motioning to a throne-like leather chair behind his desk.
He has had some harrowing moments working here. In the adjacent room, bullet holes are still visible in the walls where a Taliban gunman snuck inside and shot up the ministry last year.
“I think that is not such a major issue, bigger or smaller,” he said. “I would be very happy with a room this size.”