Canadians build 'small city' near Kandahar
Christ Wattie, National Post, 1 Feb 2006
Military engineers are busy building what will become home to 10,000 soldiers, complete
with its own power, water, sewage and fire department.
In this dusty, windswept airfield thousands of kilometres from
Canada, a small city is being thrown up in near-record time to
accommodate more than 2,000 Canadian troops and their
coalition allies arriving this month for a year-long,
counter-insurgency mission against the Taliban in southern
Lt.-Col. Paul Fredenburg, a 50-year-old Toronto-born military
engineer, is the head of the "public works
department" for Kandahar airfield, which will be a city
of more than 10,000 by the time he and his crew of engineers
"We're like municipal engineers -- we do power, water,
sewage ... we even have our own fire department," he says
with a smile, swerving his military four-wheel drive vehicle
around one of the gravel roads that criss-cross the
eight-square-kilometre base, wrapped around the Kandahar air
strip and surrounded by flat scrub land of the southern Afghan
Lt.-Col. Fredenburg and the 107 military engineers under his
command -- "my boys" as he cheerfully calls them --
have been working non-stop since early December to build up
the Canadian sector of Kandahar airfield -- "KAF"
for short -- complete with its own power stations, water and
sewage systems, hospital and the military's version of a city
works yard: parking space for hundreds of military vehicles
and an ammunition dump to store the tonnes of bullets, shells
and explosives needed by the task force.
"It's a really complex job. My boys are working seven
days a week, and they're long, long days," he says,
careening to a halt in a shower of dust in front of a crew of
engineers throwing up a command centre for the Canadian battle
group, built around the 1st Battalion Princess Patricia's
Canadian Light Infantry, which is to replace a U.S. army
"We were hoping to be where we are now in December. The
Americans aren't moving out quite as fast as we'd hoped, and
our people are coming in sooner than we'd thought. But it'll
get done. You watch."
The Canadian engineers have been labouring under a looming
deadline in setting up the $10.5-million Canadian section of
the camp, which is also home to American, British, Dutch and
Romanian soldiers and hundreds of civilian contractors.
Almost every day for the past two weeks, a Canadian air force
Hercules transport has disgorged another load of Canadian
soldiers onto the dusty windswept tarmac at Kandahar airfield,
building up to an eventual 2,200 troops that will form a
battle group and headquarters for what will be Task Force
Orion. The Canadian-led task force, made up of Canadian,
British and Dutch combat troops, will be responsible for
supporting Afghan government forces and hunting down the
Taliban fighters who have plagued this southern Afghan
province for the past year.
KAF has been a beehive of activity for the past two months,
with new buildings or rows of tents going up almost daily, and
construction cranes and heavy equipment rumbling through the
base at all hours of the day or night. Lt.-Col. Fredenburg
says the hectic pace was necessary.
"We'll have our buildings done in about a week," he
said. "Just in time for the next rotation."
The engineers have already thrown up a two-storey headquarters
building -- sarcastically dubbed the "Taj Mahal" by
the troops -- and are working on a set of nine semi-permanent
barracks buildings to complement the round-topped
"weather haven" tents now housing the soldiers of
the battle group.
"It'll take no time at all," Lt.-Col. Fredenburg
says confidently. "These things go up just like
The Canadian-run field hospital is all but finished, featuring
two operating rooms, a CAT scanner, radiology and
physiotherapy department with more than 125 military medical
personnel, most of them Canadian doctors, nurses and medics.
But the work has not gone entirely smoothly. A
full-to-the-brim sewage lagoon often sends pungent breezes
wafting across the camp, and power outages occasionally darken
parts of the base.
"Electrical power is my biggest problem. We don't have
enough of it, and what we have doesn't go to the right
places," Lt.-Col. Fredenburg says. "And come summer,
we're going to need even more."
As well, the need to airlift supplies and equipment into the
remote base by Hercules transports has occasionally handcuffed
the hard-working engineers.
"There's two Hercs coming in every day with people and
cargo ... and it's not enough," he says, looking
longingly at an RAF C-17 Globemaster, the huge jet-engined
transport plane the Canadian air force has been lobbying
successive governments to buy for almost a decade, parked on
"We're flying in rented Russian cargo planes every day,
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