Saturday, April 2

It Never Rains But....

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

Alas, no matter how hard I click my sturdy, sandy heels together the days aren’t passing any quicker. Rather, the only acceleration in the past while has involved the placing of IEDs along the main roads and route ways here in our beloved valley. One couldn’t accuse the Taliban of being overly imaginative, however, with two roadside bombs coming in the space of three days and both in almost exactly the same location.

The first was of a delightfully classic design - an anti-tank landmine strapped to a container housing seventeen kilos of explosive. The little fella was quite well buried too, more than half a metre under the road’s surface. Nevertheless, it would have taken more than a few layers of dirt to dissuade our trusty metal detectors from signalling its presence. We were called to the scene by the Afghan police, themselves having been tipped off by some locals earlier that morning. Our squad leader undertook the initial excavation measures, with the bomb disposal experts joining in for the securement and subsequent removal. As they walked past me, perched high up in my little gun turret, I was treated to a closer look at the sinister device itself. The landmine alone would be enough to send our VAB on a one-way trip to the scrapheap. Throw in a container filled with seventeen kilos of explosives and you’ve got yourself one hell of a fairground ride. With that said, one simply musn‘t dwell. You sneak a peek. You get that familiar chill. You shrug it off, and on you go. Bastards.

Solid intel pointed us towards the second IED. Thermal images had snapped a few lads hacking away in the middle of the road at 2am the previous night. Well outside of even the harshest chain gang union hours, the alarm bells rang loud and clear. Arriving on site, we first had to negotiate our way past the enormous queue of traffic snaking its way up towards the Afghan police roadblocks. Once through, the boys hopped out of the VAB, snapped open the metal detectors and slowly crept up towards the supposed location, carefully sweeping the entire width of the road as they went. The infantry took up their usual support positions, sprawling outwards from the roadside in an inverted V formation. Their job is primarily to search for any wires or trigger posts - the little hole or hovel from which an insurgent observes and then detonates the IED. The shout went up, wire found. Wires are good. Wires indicate manually operated IEDs. Manually operated IEDs require a trigger man. A trigger man has a tough job staying hidden and detonating an IED with forty or so ground troops combing a stretch of 200m or so on either side of the road.

And so we followed the path of the wire right up to the roadside, where we introduced our metal detectors to trace the buried section until the high-pitched squeal reached its climax, indicating something rather interesting and investigation-meriting beneath us. Same MO, squad leader digs, experts remove. Only this time, certain irregularities in the position of the IED enforced an attitude of heightened caution (well, higher than usual I guess). Hooking it up to a cable and attaching the cable to our vehicle, all personnel were ordered to take cover. This technique, you see, involves the pulling clear of explosive material deemed too unstable to remove manually. The sensitivity of the material means it could go off at any time, sending shards of metal flying in all directions. I dropped down on to my seat inside the VAB, closing the hatch as my ass reacquainted itself with the cushion underneath. My Bulgarian buddy slapped our metal marauder in to reverse and slowly we backed her up. The cable tightened, the tension appearing to reach breaking point and risking having it snapped in two. And then the device popped out of its nest and scuttled on to the surface of the road. No explosion, thankfully. In fact, the lack of an explosion was all the lore remarkable given that a hand grenade was found in the recently vacated hole, having been tucked discreetly under the IED with the pin removed. Booby trapping IEDs is a favourite of local insurgents, knowing that the majority of their little destructive gifts are inevitably identified and neutralised by coalition forces. Bastards.

Briefings had already been attended prior to the above flurry in activity, predicting, well, a flurry in activity. The tail-end of March spells the typical upward shift in Taliban activity across Afghanistan. Admittedly, things have been relatively quiet since we touched down here. Granted, the first few missions saw some lively encounters as our tactics, reflexes and solidity were tested by the insurgents. Indeed it only took a month to register the first tragic loss of our tour. With that said, the Winter months enforced a diminution in daring-do as the cold weather kept our adversaries more or less at bay. Regretfully, the Springtime thaw has injected fresh warmth and impetus in to the enemy ranks (and a tube of Factor 50 sun cream in to the pockets of the good guys). Those scorching rays of sunshine are spurring our hosts on in ever increasing boldness. All the same, burying IEDs in the middle of the road is one thing. What befell our troops last Wednesday, however, took this particular round of war games to a whole other level........

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