— Domani Spero
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In December 2009, then U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry signed the lease for the 5-Star Hotel property in Herat, Afghanistan, identified as the site of the future U.S. Consulate in Herat, the post that would cover the four provinces of western Afghanistan bordering Iran and Turkmenistan: Herat, Badghis, Ghor, and Farah.
Two and a half years after that lease signing, the U.S. Consulate in Herat officially opened. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns attended the opening ceremony on June 13, 2012. He made the following remarks:
And so we are here to celebrate the opening of the consulate — this remarkable refurbished facility, leased from the Municipality of Herat. This was truly a community effort – we purchased local products to use in the refurbishment, some of which you can see on display in the waiting room next door. World-class quality, Chesht-e-Sharif marble now graces some of the floors. Every week, on average, more than 70 Afghans contributed their time and skills to the consulate’s construction. One expert carpenter turned plain packing crates into beautifully carved room dividers. And artwork produced by students from Herat University is displayed on the walls of the consulate.
This consulate, built with so many Afghan hands and so much Afghan talent, is a small reminder of what the people of Herat can accomplish. And it gives us hope for the greater effort facing Afghans—which is not merely the building of a single structure, but the building of an entire nation that deserves a future better than its recent past. Let this building stand as a sign of our commitment: As you build this future, one day at a time, you can count on the steadfast support and friendship of the United States of America.
- US Consulate Herat Moves Forward
- Deputy Sec’y Bill Burns Inaugurates U.S. Consulate Herat
- US Mission Afghanistan: But … DHS on the Deaths of Civilian Contractors in Herat
- Suicide Bombers Target US Consulate Herat: Locals Reportedly Killed/Wounded, No American Casualties
- US Consulate Herat Casualties: One Afghan Police, Eight Local Guards Killed
- See the Blast Crater From Truck Bomb in the Sept 2013 U.S. Consulate Herat Attack
This past September, we’ve blogged about the 2014 OIG report on Mission Afghanistan noting the rebuilding of the Consulate Herat building following the September 2013 attack:
Rebuilding of the badly damaged consulate building is expected to be completed in summer 2014. Consulate employees were relocated to either ISAF’s Camp Arena or to Embassy Kabul.[snip] The embassy estimates the annual operating cost for Herat is approximately $80 million, most of which is devoted to security.
We have yet to confirm if the rebuilding was completed this past summer (see * below).
However, on October 20, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul released a statement of its official notification to the Government of Afghanistan that it is consolidating the State Department operations in Herat at ISAF’s Camp Arena effective October 23:
On October 18, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that the United States intends to move its diplomatic and consular presence from its current location on Qol-e-Urdu Road to Camp Arena of the International Security Assistance Force effective on October 23, 2014. Following the September 13, 2013 attack on the U.S. Consulate building in Herat, the staff has been working from Camp Arena, and due to operational considerations, we have decided to continue to operate from Camp Arena. The U.S. Consulate Herat staff remains committed to engaging with the Afghan people.
Camp Arena, the main Italian base near the city of Herat is home to 2,000 Italian soldiers and 400 Spanish troops (2012 numbers).
So. That’s where we are right now. * Word on the corridors is that this $10 million refurbished/repaired/hardened building will be a returned to the municipality and will be treated as a write-off. We anticipate that Consulate Herat will be operating out of an ISAF base for the foreseeable future but we don’t know at this time how many of these bases will remain in Afghanistan when troops are reduced to 9,800 after this year and cut in half at the end of 2015. The reduction of forces in Afghanistan only calls for “a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy” at the end of 2016.
With that in mind, the big question is — where would this plan leave the U.S. Consulate in Herat, currently located in Camp Arena and U.S. Consulate Mazar e-Sharif, currently located in Camp Marmal?
* * *
I know the 5-Star Hotel quite well, having served in Herat 2005-6. In fact, I represented Uncle Sam at the 2006 ceremony that inaugurated the hotel.
For many reasons, physical security being just one, the site should never have been selected as a USG facility. Nor should the USG have placed such an outsized consulate operation in Herat. A more modest presence would have been more in line with U.S. strategic objectives in western Afghanistan. Certainly, less over-bearing and intrusive.
Permanent relocation of the consulate to Camp Arena symbolizes less a concession to realism than a foreign policy failure in a city that from day one truly welcomed the U.S. and its allies.