In October 2001, the United States and its coalition partners sent military forces into Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, which had the goals of displacing the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, ousting the Taliban government, and establishing a new Afghan central government. A six-person Forward Engineer Support Team from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deployed with the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps and worked with that units’ engineers during combat operations.
In a country racked by decades of war, the fledgling government needed a national army to secure internal peace and stability. But the new Afghan National Army needed adequate facilities to support its new fighting force. By fall 2002, it became clear that the renovation and construction of support facilities would be the pacing factor in the ANA’s expansion. The Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan asked USACE to manage the renovation and construction of facilities for the national army.
To manage this program, USACE’s Transatlantic Programs Center (TAC, now called the Middle East District) in Winchester, Virginia, established the Afghanistan Area Office at Kabul in September 2002. USACE planners completed the ANA facilities master plan and awarded the first ANA construction contracts by the end of 2002. Initially, those contracts were to renovate existing facilities for the first soldiers graduating from the ANA training program.
The facility requirements for the ANA expanded as the numbers of soldiers increased, with new brigade facilities identified for construction throughout Afghanistan. Concurrently, the military construction project load for U.S. and coalition forces increased during 2003, primarily because the growing number of forces at Bagram Airfield (north of Kabul) and Kandahar Airfield (in southern Afghanistan) required housing and operational facilities. Additionally, USACE entered into an agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide design review, construction management, and quality assurance services for certain projects.
The growth in mission and the long-term commitment to Afghanistan prompted USACE to expand the area office in Kabul to a district. On March 1, 2004, the Afghanistan Engineer District, reporting directly to USACE headquarters, assumed command and control of USACE assets in Afghanistan and the bordering countries. Five years later, with the increasing mission to provide facilities for the additional 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, USACE revised its organizational structure. The existing Kandahar Program Office became AED-South on August 3, 2009, with AED-North continuing to be based in Kabul. Both districts reported to the Transatlantic Division, which was established September 29, 2009.
The evolving USACE mission in Afghanistan resulted in another structural change on July 9, 2013, when AED-North and AED-South merged into a single district again. Operation Enduring Freedom formally ended in December 2014 and was replaced by Operations Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel. Resolute Support is the NATO-led mission to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Force, and Freedom’s Sentinel is the continued counterterrorism effort.
The Afghanistan District has delivered quality facilities for the Afghan National Army and Police; critical civil infrastructure, such as water and electrical facilities for the Afghan government; and basic engineering and construction services supporting a wide range of needs. The projects employ the populace, build skilled human capital, and promote the stability of Afghanistan.
Beyond these operations, USACE oversaw a program to modernize Afghanistan’s road system that began in 1961 with the establishment of the Kandahar Resident Office, under the Gulf District of the Mediterranean Division. See Historical Vignette 039.