Sometime around the spring of 2011, lawmakers will begin to ramp up a debate on whether or not the United States should begin withdrawing forces from Afghanistan according to the "conditions-based" timetable established by the announced July 2011 "deadline" -- a term I am using with as much flexibility as I can muster. But over in Afghanistan, the debate may be largely settled.
Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman is at Bagram Air Force Base today for the first time since 2008, and he sees the base expanding and hardening into something very permanent. The base is packed with planes of all stripes and the base's main road has become a "two-lane parking lot of Humvees, flamboyant cargo big-rigs from Pakistan known as jingle trucks, yellow DHL shipping vans, contractor vehicles and mud-caked flatbeds." There are hangars going up, cranes everywhere, and cement is "being manufactured right inside Bagram's walls" by a Turkish contractor. Ackerman captures the change thusly:
I haven't been able to learn yet how much it all cost, but Bagram is starting to feel like a dynamic exurb before the housing bubble burst. There was actually a traffic jam this afternoon on the southern side of the base, owing to construction-imposed bottlenecks, something I didn't think possible in late summer 2008.
And here's your population-centered counterinsurgency update:
Troops here told me of shepherd boys scowling their way around Bagram's outskirts, slingshotting off the occasional rock in hopes of braining an American. Again, something else I wouldn't have believed two years ago.
Ackerman's bottom line: "Anyone who thinks the United States is really going to withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011 needs to come to this giant air base an hour away from Kabul."
U.S. Supersizes Afghan Mega-Base as Withdrawal Date Looms [Danger Room]