By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
March 16, 2009 - Military engineers have made great strides in improving infrastructure and governance capabilities in Iraq and are making positive contributions in Afghanistan as well, the Air Force's top engineer officer said here today. Air Force Maj. Gen. Delwyn R. Eulberg told reporters during a roundtable discussion that the military has adapted well to its dual missions in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its two-fold operation of warfighting and nation building. U.S. and NATO partnerships in the two countries have improved national capabilities to levels never seen before, he said.
"It's not just about fighting the enemy," Eulberg said. "It's almost like we're on a parallel track. Reconstruction is part of irregular warfare, and it's building capacity so [Iraq and Afghanistan] can sustain and self govern."
Eulberg stressed that reconstruction efforts are more than simply repairing war damages. He recently returned from his seventh trip to the U.S. Central Command area of operations, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. He noted that Air Force engineers have been involved in $5.2 billion worth of nation-building efforts, including restoration and new construction of hospitals, schools, roads, and border forts. They've also participated in projects to improve oil, water, sewage and electrical systems in both countries, he said.
In Iraq, local engineers have progressed and developed their competencies to the point of taking over much of the ensuing reconstruction efforts there, he said.
"I think the American people can be proud of the fact that we've brought medical care and clean water to villages and parts of Iraq that have never had it before," the general said. "We're trying to rebuild the nation, not just repair damages from the war."
Similar progress, but at a much smaller level, has occurred in Afghanistan, in terms of infrastructure, governance and security force improvements. About 3,000 engineer airmen are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and their capabilities are pressed thin along with the rest of the armed forces, he said. However, he added that increasing host-nation capacity to relieve military engineers as well as shifting forces out of Iraq and into Afghanistan is opening the door to more improvements for the Afghans.
As the military increases its footprint in Afghanistan, expanding base camps and building new ones present challenges for engineers, Eulberg said. He explained that aside from the tough task of getting additional manpower and equipment, commanders have to deal with the issue of clearing mine fields or destroying farmland to develop military infrastructure. Clearing mine fields and building on farmland "are usually the two biggest challenges that limit out flexibility to go forward," he added.
The additional 17,000 troops President Barack Obama has authorized to deploy to Afghanistan are expected to have boots on the ground by late spring in time for the Afghan national elections in August. The extra troops are expected to augment the lack of coalition presence in the southern and eastern part of the country. These regions require as many as six new bases as well as new construction of roads and air strips to accommodate logistics, supplies and troops, Eulberg said.
"We're dealing with very tight timelines and very austere locations for some of these locations," the general said, citing that in some respects the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are considered "engineer" wars. "We need engineers in order to flow the forces into [Afghanistan]."
Eulberg lauded his fellow engineers for their contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan, calling the current generation of engineers the most "combat-experienced" he's ever seen. It's difficult to find a military engineer without combat experience, which the services and Defense Department will benefit greatly from in the future, he said.
"Those young officers and enlisted leaders are as combat-experienced as we've ever had," he said. "They've seen war in two theaters, simultaneously. They've done it in a joint fashion with international partners, as well as worked with the State Department. Their experience is going to change the fundamental nature of how the United States military is going to interact and engage with partners around the world."