The Great Wall of Qatar

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Spc. Jason H. Nolte / U.S. Army

A relatively short eight-foot high wall goes up in Afghanistan, half the height of the one planned for the main U.S. base in Qatar.

The U.S. military has been routinely flying warplanes out of Qatar’s al Udied air base, just west of the Gulf state’s capital of Qatar, since 1991’s Persian Gulf War, and running the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq out of the U.S. Central Command’s forward headquarters there for more than a decade.

So not clear precisely why the Air Force has decided, now, that there is “a requirement for 671 Alaskan Barriers to be delivered to Al Udeid AB, Qatar.”

These aren’t your standard New Jersey barriers, but concrete monsters that stand 16 feet high and eight feet across. The 671 slated to be bought, linked together, would create a 12-inch thick, 16-foot high wall more than a mile long.

Such barriers have cropped up in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and in other places where warring camps need to be kept apart – or where terrorists are feared. Last fall, a band of Taliban fighters blew up a half-dozen Marine aircraft worth $200 million – and killed two Marines – after breaking through less-than-robust security at a base in southern Afghanistan.

“Concrete Alaskan Protective Barriers in accordance with the attached specifications, delivered, unloaded, and placed on Al Udeid Air Base in specified locations at the direction of the U.S. Government,” the contract solicitation says.

The new wall is part of “standard force-protection measures” and “is not in response to any new threats to our Airmen or our aircraft,” Air Force Captain Natassia N. Cherne says. “These measures are determined from a variety of lessons learned, as well as thorough reviews from our force protection assessment teams.”

A 2007 Air Force report noted that such walls are “the difference between life and death at the Victory Base Complex here in Baghdad. Concrete walls surround everything, serving as a daily reminder of insurgent hostilities.” The six-foot wide Alaska barriers then being used in Baghdad weighed in at about eight tons apiece and cost about $700 each.

They’re the offspring of the three-foot high Jersey barrier, developed in New Jersey but first used along dangerous California roads more than a half-century ago, according to this account. Texas barriers have 12-foot walls, and Alaskan barriers rise between 16 and 20 feet (they’ve also been dubbed Bremer barriers, apparently in honor of L. Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq following the 2003 U.S. invasion).