KUNDUZ, Afghanistan -- Sometime in the next few weeks, local workers will rip out the fancy cooking equipment in the gleaming, $20 million armored dining hall on the German-run military base at Kunduz, Afghanistan, and replace it with crude wood-burning stoves built on what is now a loading dock.
Another team of laborers is finishing a massive, half-mile-long brick wall that cuts the base in two, a measure that the Afghan government sought before it would agree to accept the base for use by two branches of its security forces.
The Germans, who are pulling out of Kunduz in a few weeks, were bemused that Afghan police and army units wanted such a firm boundary between each other, but agreed to pay the $460,000 construction cost of what they quickly dubbed "the Berlin Wall."
The separate ministries that oversee the police and army also asked for separate water and sewer systems.
Coalition troops at the German base and an adjacent U.S. camp are packing up and shipping out equipment, trying to decide what to destroy, what to sell and what to give to the local Afghan security forces, trying to orchestrate a safe, orderly final withdrawal even as they dodge the occasional incoming rocket and respond to intelligence reports of bombs along the roads they’re using to truck equipment and people out.
With the U.S.-led coalition’s drawdown shifting into high gear – the American force of 62,000 will be reduced by half by late winter – its efforts to shut down its bases have hit a complicated peak.
Until now, most of the 700 or so bases demolished or turned over to the Afghan government or private land owners have been small and relatively simple, often little more than a perimeter wall of sand-filled boxes.
But now comes the complicated part.
Three quarters of the 100 bases that remain are giants like the sprawling Bagram Airfield north of Kabul, or are considered medium-sized, like the adjacent German and American bases at Kunduz, which held a few thousand troops at one point.
Eventually all that would be left in coalition hands are the nine bases that the U.S.-led forces reportedly are seeking to maintain in a bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government. Negotiations over that deal reportedly are stalled.
Several medium-sized bases are being prepared for closing now, and then the coalition will target a larger group in October and November, said Col. Jose Aguilar, chief of basing for the coalition’s operational command.
"We’re getting to that point where the bases we are dealing with are they’re bigger, which means we have to plan them out with a lot more resources and plan them out a lot further ahead in time," Aguilar said.
The coalition has the last word on what to do with its bases, but the team that leads the decision-making consults weekly with of an Afghan base closing commission to get their views on which will be transferred and which demolished.
The adjacent German and American-run camps at Kunduz are a case study in the two basic ways that the collation is handling such bases.
If they’re deemed safe, sustainable, securable and useful for the Afghans, like the German side of the complex, they are cleaned up and modified to make them work for whatever use the Afghans plan.
Those that are too small, poorly located, or, like the American camp, too flimsily-built – it’s mostly tents – are being torn down and the land restored to their pre-war state.