Graveyard of empires can hardly wait

The US is seeking to pour more money into wars in the coming years, with the Afghan operation topping the agenda, while for Afghans more foreign troops is likely to mean less trust in their own government.

Obama's budget request for 2011, which will be unveiled later on Monday, is expected to ask for additional US$33 billion on top of the already-demanded record US$708 billion in defense spending.

For first-sergeant Conrad Gamez, a nighttime patrol through the streets of Kalat city bazaar is a far cry from the years he spent fighting in Iraq. Although he still carries a gun, here his job is to protect the locals – and help his soldiers help them. During the day they assist in building schools and hospitals, hoping that as living standards improve for ordinary Afghans, the chances of a Taliban resurgence diminish.

“It is not just trying to win the hearts and minds of the people, we are just trying to get the people to trust in their government,” explains First Sergeant Conrad Gamez of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Zabul. “How well it can be maintained, only time will tell. I know once we leave there will be remnants of what we have done that will still remain here.”

But there are no guarantees – and the tens of thousands more troops committed by the international community cannot promise it either. In fact, say some, quite the opposite.

Laurent Saillard represents non-governmental organizations working in Afghanistan. He says their job is becoming more difficult because of the growing number of troops in the country.

“We are facing in this country more and more militarization of aid. What does it mean? It means that in fact most contributing countries try to create synergies between military efforts and aid assistance,” told Laurent Saillard, the Director of Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief. “They might get some quick results, but if you look at the mid- and long-term trends, it actually generates all sorts of counterproductive effects, including destabilization.”

Financially it is an expensive decision. Intelligence reports put the number of supposed al-Qaeda in the region at around 300. This means that for every one al Qaeda fighter, America is now committing itself to 100 troops and US$300 million a year.

Most of them will pass through Kandahar Airforce Base, the main logistics hub in southern Afghanistan. US President Barack Obama made their deployment official on the 1st of December 2009.

Constructors had been hard at work already for weeks before President Obama made his announcement. While it is still not clear where the majority of troops will be deployed, a lot will end up at Kandahar Airforce Base anyway.

The base been dubbed Afghanistan's fastest-growing city. It boasts several gyms, hair salons and game rooms. There is a massive boardwalk with American food chains and coffee shops.

“We’ve been preparing obviously since General McChrystal put his plans together,” said US Army representative Russ Huxtable. “We’ve started some of the infrastructure already. Most of the accommodation is already in place and we¹re just finishing that off now. Clearly this is temporary accommodation. As you know from the announcement, the intention is not for them to be here too long, so we are not looking building to any permanent facilities. Most are temporary.”

But not all soldiers welcome the new recruits, least of all the way Obama announced their deployment.

“I would not be making announcements to the world of what my objectives are. I don¹t think that is a good idea for anybody to do,” shared Staff Sergeant Christopher Bazan, a squadron leader. “They have to create a strong central government here that can get the respect of the people.”

This is no easy task, as those soldiers on patrol are finding out. At the end of the day, whatever the reasons given for new troops, Central Asia's infamous “Graveyard of empires” could be adding another one to its list.