Monday, May 31, 2010

Camp Bastion doubles in size

Report by Sharon Kean, Defence Focus

Camp Bastion, the lynchpin of British, and increasingly American, operations in Helmand, is a desert metropolis, complete with airport, that is expanding at a remarkable pace.

Bastion exists for one reason: to be the logistics hub for operations in Helmand. Supply convoys and armoured patrols regularly leave its heavily-defended gates. They support the military forward operating bases, patrol bases and checkpoints spread across Helmand province.

Colonel Angus Mathie is the officer in charge of the British-owned and run camp. His main role is to ensure the base is secure. He also keeps a hand on the tiller of development, deciding where people are going to live, and if someone wants to move a unit somewhere it's the Colonel who gives them the OK.

Colonel Angus Mathie, Commander Bastion

It is also Colonel Mathie's office that provides all the administrative support to all the units in Bastion, everything from cashing cheques to organising leave.

Speaking about the area where Camp Bastion has been built, Colonel Mathie says:

"Whoever picked this bit of ground really got it right. It's right in the middle of the desert and the Russians were never here, so there is no legacy of unexploded ordnance."

The UK's largest military base and centre of operations in Afghanistan needs that desert. The camp has doubled in size during the past year. Following the surge of 12,000 US troops who share it, Bastion now accommodates 21,000 people:

"It's one thing looking at Bastion on a map," says Colonel Mathie, "it's another thing driving around it. People returning who were here a year ago are absolutely amazed because it is so much bigger."

Leatherneck, the American camp-within-a-camp, was built to accommodate the surge troops. Now, this mega-base spreads across 35 square kilometres:

"There was an argument that it should be in Lashkar Gah, among the people," Colonel Mathie says. "But we could never have put this there."

The wide open spaces around the camp are largely empty terrain. Within the perimeter, graded roads with ditches on either side divide prefab buildings and tents erected to a strict grid system.

Some of the 200 British and American vehicles preparing to leave Camp Bastion on the largest Combat Logistic Patrol to take place in Afghanistan

Bastion's airfield handles around 600 fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft movements every day:

"It's a remarkable place," says the Colonel, "busier than Luton or Stansted, and it's twice as busy now as it was three months ago. Most movements are helicopters, but they are just as demanding as fixed-wing aircraft."

Providing protection to every British aircraft arriving or leaving Bastion is the RAF Regiment who patrol out on the ground to make sure nobody can take a shot.

Bastion is home to around 5,000 UK military personnel from more than 60 Navy, Army and RAF units. There are also some 2,000 contractors providing a multitude of services, from building maintenance to catering. The Americans, in the fully incorporated Camp Leatherneck, number around 14,000.

The waste created by so many people is disposed of in eight incinerators and a burn pit. There is also a water bottling plant, providing drinking water sourced from the Hindu Kush.

Colonel Mathie explains how he keeps his finger on the pulse from day-to-day:

"Every morning at 8.30 I meet with representatives from every unit in Bastion, including the Americans, Danes and Estonians. We give them an intelligence update, an operations update and the weather. Then we get an update on what they're doing."

Colonel Angus Mathie shows Defence Focus reporter Sharon Kean a map of the sprawling Camp Bastion

The sheer size and importance of the base means that security is the thought preoccupying Colonel Mathie and many of his staff, from the moment they wake until their eyes close at the end of the long days.

The perimeter fence winds its way over many kilometres, traversing guard towers, weapons pits and sangars. Sensitive long-range cameras and radars scan the surrounding area for suspicious movements that might presage attacks, and seemingly these precautions have been effective:

"Attacks on Bastion happen very rarely," Colonel Mathie says. "The main threat here is from IEDs and we've had a number in the nearby wadi over the last few months. During Operation MOSHTARAK there was a half-hearted attempt to throw some rockets at us, but none of them hit the camp. We have force protection teams and a patrol base to the south of here, which is manned 24-hours-a-day."

Commander Bastion, as the Colonel is known, likens the sprawling military base to a medieval fort:

"People outside have moved towards the edges of the base because of the security afforded by it, in the same way that settlements would develop around castles."

He points to a patch of greenery a short distance outside the wire belonging to a local farmer, who has cultivated melons on ground irrigated by water flowing from Bastion.

The melons are sold to the drivers of the vehicles delivering stores to the camp, but official trade with such farmers is out of the question says Colonel Mathie:

"We have to be very careful about any local produce - the security implications of buying our food locally are just too many."

But there has to be interaction with local people. The main entry point to Bastion processes around 250 vehicles every day, including about 50 tankers bringing in the fuel needed to run generators, kitchens and vehicles. All must be searched by soldiers and military search dogs before they are allowed onto the base.

In a bid to loosen the log jam without compromising security, a 3.5m gallon fuel depot is being built just outside the camp. A pipeline will run from there to Bastion's diesel and petrol pumps, removing the need for tankers to drive onto the base:

"The fewer vehicles we have to bring in here the better," says the Colonel.

There are also hundreds of local people employed to work within the wire:

"We run checks through the intelligence services, and RAF Police and Royal Military Police also vet people regularly," he explains.

Locally-employed civilians live in a camp within the camp:

"They are not allowed to be roaming the streets of Bastion after 1900hrs. There's a curfew and we keep a tight grip on it," says Colonel Mathie.

Colonel Mathie says that if anyone tries to fire a rocket at Camp Bastion from outside the wire, radar will detect where it's going to land, and if that's within 800m of the perimeter, the warning alarm automatically sounds so everyone can take cover.

There are though also threats to personnel inside the wire and road traffic accidents are a concern to the Colonel:

"This is a very dangerous environment, if only because we're expanding and we've got lots of construction traffic. Visibility can be less than 50 metres."

The camp, its airfield and the surrounding 670-kilometre area of operations are regularly patrolled by the RAF Regiment, RAF Police and US Marines. Co-operation with the Americans is complete, but there are differences:

"They are slightly more expeditionary over in Leatherneck," says Colonel Mathie. "It's the only place I've been to in my military career where we are more comfortable than the Americans.

"Compared to a patrol base, it's luxury. The facilities are good, considering we're stuck in the middle of the Afghan desert. It's a good place to come to get a bit of rest if you have been at one of the patrol bases. However, I wouldn't want it to be so comfortable that it had an adverse effect on operational efficiency."

Pictures: Corporal Lynny Cash

24 comments:

  1. Interesting insight into CB: First thing that came to mind when I read of the size, it equalled that of Walt Disney World - amazing...

    Keep up the good work - not an easy task - thinking an praying for you all. x

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  2. Stapleton - Hendricks County, IndianaJune 12, 2010 at 8:27 AM

    My son will be deployed in mid-Sept. 2010 at CB. I'm praying for his safety and for all coalition forces serving at Camp Bastion and other posts in the Middle East. I'm praying for a safe deployment & safe return home for each one of you. I believe all are in good hands with Col. Mathie in charge. To all of the Marine men and women serving: "Hooah" and God bless you.

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  3. I believe my son has been recently stationed at CB and after reading this article, I feel much more relieved that he will be safe there. I know that his work will take him away from the base at times and pray he will remain safe and come home soon. Great work and God Bless you all.

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  4. My youngest son is in the Marine Corps. Oddly enough, he has not been over there, but his older brother (non-military)is working at Bastion. This article is a comfort to me knowing that the fine men and women who are stationed there are making a difference. Thank you.

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  5. Keep safe everyone. You are doing good work. Thanks.

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  6. Love you TH 17/04/74 x

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  7. My grandson is in the Royal Scots and currently serving in Afghanistan. As a Grandmother it is heart warming to know that he is being looked over by all the men and women running camp Bastion. After read this arcticle alot of my worries have be quashed. I am pround of not only my granson making a difference but of all the soldiers. Your work is not in vain, keep safe and keep the good work up. xxx

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  8. God bless you all. Thinking of you all and praying for your safety.
    A father.

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  9. The more I read about camp bastion the more I want to be there assisting the medical corps. When I finish uni for nursing I am going to look into the TA medical corps as my daughter is too small for me to leave her for long periods of time. There's no place I'd rather be than helping our troops!!!!

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  10. Good Luck to my son & all of 34 Squadron RAF Regiment just starting a 7 month tour. Keep safe and be strong and look out for each other. We're praying for a safe tour & are very proud of you, God Bless you all. PER ARDUA - Raf Reg Mum

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  11. keep safe, do what you all do best god bless.. always be brave and stand your ground dont let this all be for nothing...
    truely brave xxx

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  12. Good luck all you lot out there, all the work what you are doing is really appreciated x

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  13. My grandson is getting ready to head to Bastion from what I'm told. I pray for his safety and that of all military personnel. God bless them all.

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  14. TO OUR SON .....WHOS IN 3 PARA ....THINKING OF YOU......THIS CHRISTMAS....LOV MUM DAD GIVE EM HELL.

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  15. Our son will just be arriving at Bastion, he is an RAF Firefighter We are so proud of him and his contribution to helping keep everyone out there safe. You are all heroes. Keep safe everyone.

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  16. Come home safe and sound at the end of March, your second 6 month stint out there nearly over, stay safe inside Camp Bastion.

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  17. Richard, aka RAF Badger, should arrive at Bastion today. His family will miss him during his four month tour. Mum is wearing her Help for Heroes wristband and it won't come off until Richard is home safe and well. God be with you and all who serve out there. Each and everyone of you is a hero in our eyes. XXXX

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  18. My son went to Bastion just last week, REME 2Paras. It's his job that he is proud of and wants to do, I cant be any prouder of him. I just pray that he will be safe and return home safely and pray for all the other army personell that are deployed there. BE SAFE.

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  19. My son is in the Royal Engineers & flew in to camp Bastion on Tuesday at the start of a 7 month tour. I would like to say a big thank you to all those who went before him & made it a far safer place to be.
    I'm so proud of my son & all the other service men & women from every nation who are working out there.

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  20. Good Luck To My Fiance And The Rest Of 58SQN Raf Regiment! Keep Safe And See You All After The 7 month Tour! xx I Am Proud Of You All xx
    RAF REGIMENT FIANCEE xxx

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  21. Hubby is considering a job as a chef in Camp Bastion...I feel much better about it after reading this. I had been picturing a few tents pitched in the desert. Thank you.

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  22. I'm glad to read this article since i will be deployed to CB next month,Aug,2011.Looking forward to be working with all the people there.God bless you all n keep safe.

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  23. I have been and seen,i wont be home before xmas,i am a ex south african trained military man but a brit first,born outside manchester,all your sons and daughters are great in what they do,and stand among the proud, i wish a speedy tour and trip home.

    steve

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  24. My dad is over there and I miss him.

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