Explosions will still rock Afghanistan after we leave
The spate of so called ‘green-on-blue’ attacks, where members of the Afghan National Security Forces kill Coalition soldiers, has been one of the most destabilising threats to our resolve and commitment to the war in Afghanistan.
A total of fifty-nine Coalition soldiers, including seven Australians, have died at the hands of rogue Afghan forces. However, Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs continue to be the most deadly risk in Afghanistan.
The sad fact is that long after Coalition forces have departed, IEDs will remain a serious risk to life and freedom of movement across Afghanistan for civilians. They’re an evil legacy from an unconventional war against a complex enemy.
As of October 2012, 1322 Coalition soldiers have been killed by IEDs. Between 2009 and 2012, IEDs accounted for approximately 50 per cent of all Coalition fatalities, while almost half of all Australian soldiers killed in action were from IEDs, with eighteen wounded.
According to the Pentagon’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, the number of IED attacks in 2012 is even higher than in 2011, when US forces were at their peak and fighting raged across the country.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) monitoring of civilian casualties reveals that IEDs killed 340 civilians and injured a further 599 over the past nine months, an increase of almost 30 per cent compared to the same period last year.
While the Taliban are cunning, their reckless asymmetric warfare tactics often result in the use of enough explosive material to destroy a tank being planted with a mechanism which can be set off by the footstep of child.
After the 2014 withdrawal, and regardless of whether Afghanistan descends into a new phase of conflict, civilians will continue to be killed by IEDs because nobody knows where most of them are located.
Forget about building schools and medical clinics if your path is sown with misplaced IEDs.
This is despite the fact that spilling the blood of ‘innocent Muslims’ is a crime, according to the Taliban’s spiritual leader Mullah Omar. In Dawlatabad District, situated in the usually peaceful Northern Province of Balkh, on the 19th of October this year, a civilian bus taking guests to a wedding drove over a pressure plate IED on a busy public road, killing 18 women with another seven injured, including six children.
A “pressure plate” means that when you step on the plate it completes the circuit and detonates the explosives. The other possible mechanism is a mobile phone.
A telltale sign of a mobile phone controlled device is the “trigger-point”. The IED is placed in line with a tree or post and the guy on the phone waits until your vehicle is lined up before sending the signal via his device.
The end result is the same.
Regardless of whether you are a soldier, aid worker, farmer, woman or child, IEDs are indiscriminate. In 2011, 36 per cent of all the children killed, as well as 46 per cent of women, were killed by IEDs.
In 2010 an IED missed my vehicle by metres, another IED targeted a cash-for-work project I was overseeing at the time, and a good friend of mine was seriously wounded in an IED attack in Ghazni Province.
This was around the time when it became evident that Iranian expertise had begun to find its way into Afghanistan, resulting in more sophisticated and devastating IEDs which are made from a shape charge mine known as the ‘Dragon’.
In 2011, I worked alongside one of the world’s leading experts on land mines, Roger Gagen, who is implementing a massive United Nations funded de-mining program in South Sudan.
Roger Gagen explained that he was able to implement a generally methodical operation because most conventional military forces tend to have a structured, patterned approach to how they lay out their land mines.
As you can imagine, being an unconventional, unstructured rag-tag bunch of hillbillies, the Taliban have no maps showing the lay-out of their IED program. Normally the only person who knows where they are located is the person who planted them in the first place.
When I asked Taliban commander Mullah Hossiar in 2010 if he could guarantee the removal of IEDs from the main civilian transport routes, he could not, saying “many fighters who laid the IEDs have been killed and we have no idea where they are.”
Ironically, we hear nothing from international non-government organisations, and virtually none are focused on helping local people identify IEDs and remove them.
You can bet all of the emeralds in Panjshir Valley that if these had been landmines left by Australian or US forces, we would have heard vociferous cries from human rights groups demanding that something be done.
However, one of the most respected organisations in the world, the HALO Trust, which has been clearing landmines in Afghanistan for years, has no program for IEDs.
While there will be many challenges beyond the withdrawal of all international forces from Afghanistan, IEDs will tragically claim the lives of even more soldiers and civilians. They will leave a deadly legacy, which will continue to threaten the lives and limbs of local women, children and the Afghan people long after we have all gone.
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