Written by By Dayana Yochim, CNN London
The U.S. Army’s large training and operational centers are familiar to global audiences. From Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base to outposts in Kuwait, several US military bases around the world showcase America’s military might and provide strategic training for American forces.
Now, as Afghanistan becomes increasingly unstable, those same bases are at the center of conversations about what’s next for the country.
On September 9, the International Institute for Strategic Studies will host a security conference in London that will be attended by senior leadership from NATO, the United Nations and Afghanistan’s own government, as well as international donors and think tanks. The event will include a keynote address by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who will touch on the future of Afghanistan.
Despite the high-level attention Afghanistan’s most prominent military outpost has received, the reason for its continued presence is still a subject of debate.
Along with eight other centers around the world, the giant Camp Shaheen, located about 80 miles north of Kabul, is a cornerstone of the US military’s presence in Afghanistan.
“As the saying goes, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,’” said the camp’s former commander, US Army Lt. Gen. Bradley Becker.
Once a dilapidated village on the border of Gardez and Khost, the sprawling US military base was created in 2003 as part of Operation Anaconda, an operation that resulted in some of the biggest military ground battles in the history of US involvement in Afghanistan, according to Becker.
When President Barack Obama announced his plans to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan after 2016, plans to close Camp Shaheen were put on hold.
In early 2016, however, retired US Army Brig. Gen. Sean MacFarland suggested at a think tank in Washington that a base should be reopened in Afghanistan. MacFarland’s plan involved placing a brigade of 800-1,000 troops on the base. US Army officials were open to MacFarland’s proposal.
The Camp Shaheen garrison served as an entry point for US soldiers to gain first-hand knowledge of Afghanistan’s indigenous security forces. In 2014, American military officials began to move forward with the idea of turning Shaheen into a sprawling training and development center.
“The limited, but continuously improving, capability of the Afghan police and soldiers who are the core of the Afghan national security force has afforded us the opportunity to look at different ways in which we could train and develop them,” said Becker, who commanded Camp Shaheen from August 2014 to May 2015.
Chad Pervin is a former Air Force base operations management and logistics officer who is now the director of security policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an international think tank.
“Currently the Afghan police are fighting, in different parts of the country, an adaptive enemy,” Pervin said. “They’re very resilient in what is extremely unsafe terrain, often on small footprints.”
From safe havens in Iran and Pakistan, for example, the Taliban still manages to operate freely. The US remains wary that the Taliban may become more powerful than the Afghan security forces after the withdrawal of US forces.
According to Pervin, Camp Shaheen remains a logistical outpost serving both to assist the Afghans and train the military. But more importantly, it aims to build the capacity of the Afghan forces, an investment the US is committed to making, he said.
“The Army, clearly, needs to be engaged in the country to support the Afghan forces,” Pervin said. “They need to maintain that ability to train and develop Afghanistan as a partner to help build the Afghanistan security forces and help them be a sustainable institution that can be independent.”
Becker noted that his former leadership team has a particular responsibility to help.
“We have to do our part to do what is necessary to provide the equipment, the training, the leadership, the logistics, to the Afghans to have that capability to grow as an Afghan national security force,” he said.