An $80 Million Sitting Duck

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Smoke billows from the UN headquarters after protesters attacked the compound in Mazar-e Sharif on April 1, 2011. Twelve people, including seven foreign UN workers died, in an attack on a UN headquarters by protesters angered by a U.S. pastor's burning of the Koran, the provincial governor said.

The U.S. has abandoned its just-finished consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif after spending $80 million outfitting the former hotel as a symbol of U.S. resoluteness. This is the kind of fiasco that tends to occur below the radar screen, but in hindsight clearly stands as an omen.

The Washington Post reports that the State Department, in its rush to show its commitment to the northern part of Afghanistan, cut corners when it came to the consulate’s security. It is vulnerable to car bombs, has no room for a helicopter to land for an emergency evacuation, and is surrounded by higher buildings that could turn it into a bulls-eye.

β€œThe entire compound is surrounded by buildings with overwatch and there is almost no space on the compound that cannot be watched, or fired upon, from an elevated position outside the compound,” a security assessment obtained by the Post said.

Northern Afghanistan has always been seen as more peaceful than the largely Pashtun, Taliban-infested southern part of the country. The consulate – basically, a mini-embassy – was to be located in Mazar-e Shaif to show the local Tajiks and Uzbeks that the U.S. is steadfast in its stake in all parts of the country.

But, according to the security assessment obtained by the Post, there has been “a real, measurable uptick in the threat stream” recently in the city of 375,000. The newspaper also reports that efforts by U.S. officials to sublet the structure to the German and Swedish governments are viewed as “laughable” by European diplomats.