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US plans to install bases in Afghanistan

By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, 12/20/2002

WASHINGTON - The US military, in a significant shift in its posture in Afghanistan, plans to set up eight to 10 bases around the country over the next six months in hopes of boosting reconstruction efforts and regional security, a Pentagon official said yesterday.

In addition, the new bases will try ''to dampen regional tensions'' and to project the power of the central government in Kabul into the provinces, Joe Collins, deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations, said at a Pentagon briefing.

Each of the bases will have a core contingent of about 60 people, including regular combat troops, Special Forces soldiers, US AID personnel, and others, he said. Other people, including allied and Afghan troops, as well as medical teams and Army engineering units, will bolster the staffing of some of the bases to well over 100, an administration official said. The troops are expected to engage in some small-scale construction projects, such as digging wells, building schools, and fixing minor bridges, another official said.

The reconfiguration isn't expected to increase the size of the US military presence in Afghanistan, which currently stands at about 9,000 troops, Collins said in a brief interview after the briefing.

But the other official said the US presence could increase if the Army Corps of Engineers is tapped for a major construction project, which he said is being contemplated.

The redeployment of some US forces follows months of quiet concern in the Bush administration about security trends in Afghanistan. That discussion became public last month when General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a Washington speech that ''we've lost a little momentum'' in Afghanistan and needed to alter priorities there toward more support for road building and other reconstruction. That was a notable shift for an administration and a Pentagon leadership that came into office leery of ''nation-building'' activities.

Partly because of that wariness, the redeployment of some troops into the new bases had been the subject of intense debate inside the administration, according to some participants.

The troop redeployment also remains controversial for some relief agencies, which fear that the new bases, with their mix of soldiers and aid officials, will blur the lines among combatant forces, peacekeepers and aid workers, and in so doing could endanger those workers.

This story ran on page A53 of the Boston Globe on 12/20/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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