Hamid Karzai demands handover, not demolition, of NATO bases

President Hamid Karzai and Afghan lawmakers called on the NATO coalition this week to stop demolishing Western military bases, saying that the facilities could be converted to schools, clinics and government offices.

As NATO troops continue their withdrawal from Afghanistan, U.S. and coalition officials have begun to identify and dismantle bases that the Afghan army lacks the capacity to inherit or that are no longer operationally significant. Dozens more of the facilities, which range from one-room checkpoints to large operating bases, could be bulldozed over the next two years.

Karzai has asked his defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, to “take all necessary measures to stop the demolition of bases by NATO and make their handover possible,” according to presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi.

Afghan officials in Kabul said they have been shut out of the process and have been forced to watch as some of the country’s most modern and best-fortified buildings are torn apart for no apparent reason.

“They have spent lots of money for constructing the bases, and now they are spending more money for their destruction,” said Shukria Barakzai, a lawmaker. “We can use these bases for clinics, schools and for other administrative purposes.”

NATO officials say that Afghan government officials do have an opportunity to claim bases before they are demolished but that they often do not act in time.

NATO and U.S. forces engage “directly and regularly with the Afghan Ministry of Finance-led Base Closure Commission, who ultimately determines the disposition of bases,” said Lt. Col. Sarah Goodson, a spokeswoman for NATO forces. “On those occasions where the Afghan government does not desire a base which ISAF [the International Security Assistance Force] is leaving, the base is demilitarized and the ground is returned to its original state and appearance.”

In June, the Reston-based firm Serco was awarded a three-year, $57 million contract to plan and document the dismantling of bases across Afghanistan. The company played a similar role in Iraq, where dozens of bases were shuttered rather than transferred to Iraqi control.

To do the job, Serco will deploy teams that specialize in closing military installations.

“It makes no sense to spend money to destroy a facility that you have spent money to build in the first place,” said Daud Kalakani, another lawmaker.

Although the Afghan army is about 200,000-strong, U.S. officials say it lacks the logistical capacity to inherit the hundreds of bases that pepper Afghanistan, including many in isolated mountain ranges.

Rather than spread the Afghan security forces too thin, U.S. and NATO officials are proposing a large-scale consolidation of bases. Some large installations are being downsized. And many will be dismantled — a process that can take weeks.

Javed Hamdard and Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul and Marjorie Censer in Washington contributed to this report.

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