I can’t tell you how disappointed I am with the US Department of Defense’s chosen location for a new training facility in Tajikistan. Here’s the contract info:
…National Training Center located in Karatog, Tajikistan. Work includes but is not limited to construction of a garrison compound and training ranges. The garrison compound includes administrative facilities, officer quarters and enlisted barracks, dining facility, and other supporting facilities to provide a secure, fully operational compound. The range facilities include weapons firing and qualification (rifle, pistol, crew-served weapons and explosive/unexploded ordinance), Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) facilities, vehicle operator training range, sniper/observer training and operations, repelling and fast rope towers, and support facilities (for example: control towers, outdoor classrooms, sanitary facilities).
There are so many locations with endless potential for irony, or something like that. If they had located it in my area of interest closer to the Afghan border (Vakhsh valley) we could have put the military training center in places named Sovietabad, Karl Marx, Path of Lenin, First of May, Pravda or even Bolshevik. Think of the possibilities! Plus, you could lounge at a restaurant on one of our fabulous local canals. Pic via me:
But no, the US military will be locating in “Karatog.” That’s a little Russified for me, so I’ll be calling it by its local name: Qoratogh (lit. ‘Black Mountain’ in Turkic languages). There are many locations in Tajikistan with the same name, with Guliston (‘Gulistan,’ the Bloomington of Central Asia) being the worst offender in my experience (counting neighborhoods there must be at least 10,000 Gulistons in the Vakhsh). Qoratogh is a river, a valley, and a town. But, uh… I think this is it:
I’ll take a wild guess and say the Tajik government picked the spot. Why this location? You don’t want it in a city, because when some drunken foreign soldier runs over a local you have the potential for a protest crowd forming extra-double quick. And you don’t want it in Tavildara or Gharm because “Oh no, grumpy men with beards, etc…” And you don’t want it anywhere near the Russian facilities. And worst of all, if it was placed two valleys over it would have that Evangelical compound as a neighbor. Imagine the connections the locals would make between those two facilities.
There’s not much in Qoratogh, and not much to say about recent history there. It was smack dab in the rear of Popular Front country during the civil war, so no residual worries on any counts. And it’s only about 30-45 minutes from Dushanbe, but quite rural. And it backs up to a nature reserve and a national park (check the map link above). But is it friendly to foreigners? Well, everywhere is friendly to foreigners in Tajikistan. But here’s a sample from the Qoratogh valley, via flickr user bkcoffey:
Yup. Looks dangerous. They are probably about 2 minutes from a paved road. The main dangers would be forced-hospitality by locals (i.e., eat! more! please, eat! you’re skinny, please eat! you like candy? tea? more osh? go ahead, take a nap! relax! have you ever considered marrying a Tajik girl? i have many nieces. more tea? have tea! etc…)
And the facility? I’m sure it will be as advertised, a place for the US military to train local soldiers in marksmanship and whatnot. If it was going to be shady, we would not see the contract on a website. As the Taliban advance north, I’m sure the shady operations will start in earnest in Tajikistan. And then local rumor-mongering may begin to reflect reality. I lived an hour from the Afghan border and I heard all sorts of silly stuff. Nothing malicious, just silly. I’m sure the Black Mountain facility will suffer from its share of bored locals speculating on the sinister activities within.
But a definite thanks for not locating it near my field research. That would make the speculation about me even more difficult to manage. As it stands now, I’m either an American evangelical missionary or an Iranian (“Why else would he speak in a literary Tajiki vernacular, huh?”).
On a final note, could you please put the facility in Kyrgyzstan in Karasu? (Blackwater). Just for the lols.
Fell free to fill me in on what I got horrendously wrong above, such as if the facility is actually going in another ‘Karatog.’ (I spent about 7 minutes researching this). More info on the main project for US military facilities in Central Asia here.
I would love to hear some rational, sane comments…