U.S. forces have been overseeing Karzai's security ever since July, following the assassination of one of his top ministers. But a September attempt to kill the President has heightened concerns about his safety. Karzai's U.S. backers worry about the threats posed by Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants as well as by unyielding warlords such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. And so the U.S., it appears, is helping the Afghan President dig in.
A map of the purported underground warrens, drawn for Time by an Afghan palace guard, shows a tunnel skirting the stone walls surrounding the palace. Small chambers run off the subterranean passageway. According to palace guards, the refurbishment plans include not just the underground presidential bunker but also a facility for U.S. forces and barracks for the new Afghan national army. Whatever the ultimate uses of the bunker, work on it is proceeding at an urgent clip. "If the U.S. engineers are not patrolling when we're working at night, we can steal a little sleep,"says a laborer, Ghulam Sakhi. "But if they catch us, they kick us awake. They're always pushing us to work very, very hard, day and night."