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National Guard building mock Afghan village near Belle Fourche

BELLE FOURCHE (AP) -- Army National Guard soldiers are building a mock Afghanistan village in western South Dakota that will be a target for Air Force bomber practice missions.

Members of the 842nd Engineer Company, which returned home last fall after a year of duty in Afghanistan, are helping build the village north of Belle Fourche on the military's Powder River Training Complex, where Dakotas-based B-1 and B-52 bombers practice for combat.

The goal of the project is to give Air Force flight crews training in identifying an Afghan village from the air, and practice in targeting combatants while protecting allied forces and civilians. The area in the future might also be used as an urban warfare training site.

Soldiers are building roads, mock walled enclosures and irrigation ditches around a mock garden area, the Rapid City Journal reported. They are even building the roads to a low standard so they look as they would in a civilian area of Afghanistan.

Few Americans know the look of an Afghan village better than soldiers of the 842nd. Their year of construction projects took them through different areas of the landlocked nation of high plains and mountains.

"We built berms that are supposed to represent walled compounds," said Sgt. 1st Class Rob Carr, of Lead. "It will look similar from the air, and it will give the feel of an Afghan village."

The 842nd also was responsible for getting 19 worn-out steel shipping containers onto the site to give bomber crews a passable equivalent of an Afghan village. South Dakota guardsmen brought the containers from North Dakota, and members of a Pennsylvania National Guard unit moved them to the site as part of a multi-state military training exercise conducted recently in the Black Hills.

Air Force Maj. Damen Criswell and Power River range manager Shawn Pyle of Ellsworth Air Force Base visited the site last week and gave tentative approval of the village.