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.

Surveying the damage from an IED. Photo: AP

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.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.

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14 comments

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    • stephen says:

      07:09am | 06/11/12

      The less bombs after we go, then, I’d say, the better.

      And if there is to be a settlement with the Taliban which would amount to a ceasefire and a recognition of some cultural quirks that are not an insult to common man - not to mention women - then to stay and continue fighting would be to our credit.
      Our enemy should not be able to accept any propositions with the prospect of continuing war not on the table.
      They don’t eat sugar.
      Let’s, then, give them what they need.

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      08:45am | 06/11/12

      I’d agree- we might as well accept the Taliban are merely waiting for us to leave, the only power we REALLY have is to impose some conditions on our earlier departure (as a result, we benefit more as we get out sooner). Tell the Taliban to remove the IEDs, among a few other demands, and we can get the hell out of there.

      Of course, I should admit my bias that I think Afghanistan is a huge waste of time, and almost everybody we are apparently ‘helping’ doesn’t deserve our help at all (not Karzai, not the army, not the opium growers, and none of the millions of fundamentalists). The only people worth protecting (girls getting educated) we failed to protect as the Taliban managed to get to them under our own guard.

    • Gregg says:

      07:38am | 06/11/12

      ” Ironically, we hear nothing from international non-government organisations, and virtually none are focused on helping local people identify IEDs and remove them. “

      It hardly ought to be a job for locals to do any removing and not even the seeking out for identification.
      Certainly, it could help for them to be aware and alert but then it is likely that the IEDS are readily observable for if they were, you would think that could happen with the military there now and numbers of blasts would be down.

      Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia civillians along with people in some African countries have also suffered greatly from mines and removal efforts was something that the late Princess Diana supported.
      Yes, there’s no doubting that Afghanistan is going to be one hell of a place for many decades.

      An interesting question to put to supporting politicians now and more so than a What If scenario, but put to them ” It is expected that on leaving Afghanistan, there will again be much violence with the Taliban seeking to take control and at the very best a civil war conflict. ”
      Question: ” As a leader of one of the allies, what level of future engagement with military forces would you support and why? “
      Only expect something of a vague, well, of course it’ll depend sort of answer.

    • VJR says:

      08:27am | 06/11/12

      The Americans have spent hundreds of million trying to defeat IEDs with little success judging by the number of soldiers killed or wounded by these devices.  Like so many wars in the past unexploded bombs and mines will cause death for many years to come.  Best way to avoid this is not to start in the first place we just can’t seen to get any real change by going to war.  In the end after we leave the   the war lords return and the people in the middle who have suffered the most get nothing.

    • Choose your poison says:

      09:36am | 06/11/12

      This article should say, even democracy cannot force different peoples to live in peace if their differences are so deep and so divisive that they cannot be bridged.

      Dictatorships allow the tyranny of a minority over the majority.

      Democracy allows the tyranny of the majority over the minority.

      Choose your poison.

    • subotic's name be praised! says:

      09:44am | 06/11/12

      I’d give it 5 years after The Coallition of the Willing pull out says we should be able to rock back in and take it all.

      5 years is more than enuff time to let the Taliban kill all the region’s female population, ensuring that it would be impossible to regenerate the religious ideology thru the option of birth. Then, with all the Taliban in-fighting, there wouldn’t be a sustainable recruitment option available, coz ain’t no-one being born, rite?

      Let ‘em kill themselves, we can then rock back in and grab the black gold, and Allah can sort the rest out later….

    • TheRealDave says:

      10:11am | 06/11/12

      I’m kinda wondering why you would contrast a figure given for Coalition military casualties over 3 years against a civilian casualty figure over 9 months? Seems a bit incongrous to me…especially given that the fact that 80% of ALL civilians casualties over the past decade are directly attributable to Taliban/Militia forces.

      And the threat is not limited to just IEDs placed in the past decade - there are still untold tens of thosands of Soviet era mines scattered all over the place as well. They’ll still be in the ground after 2014.

    • DBO says:

      10:34am | 06/11/12

      After visiting Vietnam a couple of years ago I was horrified to learn that there are still in excess of 30,000 Australian mines in the area surrounding the old army base at Nui Dat. I would have thought that in latter years the Australian government should have made a humanitarian gesture by attempting to remove as many of these as possible.

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      10:42am | 06/11/12

      Does anyone really imagine that once the foreign troops have left that the Taliban will not take over?
      Yes there are Taliban in Pakistan. In all probability they are Citizens of Pakistan & Afghanistan.
      Yes, there are Taliban in Afghanistan. The vast majority of them will be Afghan Citizens.
      What is to be done about them?
      They can’t be driven out of their own country.
      If they could be, where would the go?
      Even the puppet President of Afghanistan has called for “All foreign troops to leave”.
      We are told that Al Qaeda was driven out of Afghanistan years ago. That was the reason given for the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in the first place. To drive Al Qaeda out.
      If they now want to drive out the Taliban then the chances are they will have to drive out 75% or more of Afghanistan’s own citizens.
      Surely what is being done in Afghanistan by foreign troops is only putting off the inevitable Evil Day when the Taliban take over again.
      Is the price of even one more young Australian being killed there worth it?

    • Swamp Thing says:

      01:12pm | 06/11/12

      Oh what a game it all is. Jason, how does the casualty return for allied troops compare to other modern wars? (favourably I would suggest). Given the operational tempo - how do the dead & maimed stack up against road deaths in Australia over the same period? (again favourably & they are absolutely ‘needless’).  I will go out on a limb and say that the number of our troops killed in the ‘ghan is quite a bit lower than the number usually killed by various means (in and out of uniform) in the same time interval while stationed at home. What used to be called ‘ordinary wastage’ in other words.  You are right in a sense though - so long as the required ruthlessness & aggression on our part is lacking ‘we’ are wasting time & resources over there.
        Send a force willing to inflict (and take) casualties & to employ the methods needed for victory - our Chinese friends say - & see how the vaunted taliban weather that storm.

    • OzTrucker says:

      02:48pm | 06/11/12

      We have learned nothing from history have we. The Brits had a go once before, the Russians got caned and now its happening all over again. I despair at our desire to push democracy on the heathen. They don’t want it. They don’t need it and the $/-/!7 will hit the fan when we leave.

      The Taliban are just cooling their heals waiting for us to leave. They are happy for us to stay the course. It gives them more chance to kill our troops. We won’t be in a hurry to go back. Unless we are going after the mineral deposits.

      If we want, really want, to make an impression we tell them we are staying until they do it our way and then we let the dogs off the chain. Anything less is BS.

      My vote would be to withdraw as soon as possible and let them live their life their way.

    • Dan says:

      03:39pm | 06/11/12

      I wonder how many of these people who claimed “we’d never win! The Brits, Russians etc. tried and who are we!” are the same people who consistently opposed an increase in Australia’s contribution of troops… Of course we won’t win, but it won’t be from military defeats instead it will be from subterfuge by limp wristed politicians and the mindless horde of lefties who refused to give our military the green light to actually destroy the Taliban and give the Afghan’s a proper shot at freedom and liberty.

    • P. Walker says:

      03:45pm | 06/11/12

      Personally I think they need to revert back to their civil war.  In fact send all those here home to fight for what they want.  How many here keep bagging out the allied forces.  Send them home now!! 
      They don’t like fighting for their country but are willing to use turmoil in their host countries, you can see why their countries possibly let them go, first class trouble makers.

      Most living here live as they did back there so they will slip back easily, religious burkas, that they were fighting against are OK here now??  Didn’t they come here to escape the so called Taliban?

    • Leigh says:

      03:54pm | 06/11/12

      “Jason Thomas worked alongside US forces in Afghanistan in 2009-2010 and in 2011 with the USMC in Helmand and is preparing to return in early 2012.”

      What does that mean? Seems that he isn’t a soldier, so he doesn’t need to be in Afghanistan.

      The Taliban is not “complex”; the Taliban is a bunch of ignorant, murderous savages who will take over from the current and notoriously corrupt government just as they did when the Russians left.

      Who gives a stuff if IED’s are left all over the place when allied troops leave? Australians should be thinking only of the Australian soldiers killed for no good reason in that crappy country, whose crappy people can’t look after their own country.

      Shame on all Australian politicians who think it’s a good idea for our soldiers to be there at all. Shame on the Labor supporters who made so much fuss about a Coalition engagement in Iraq, but who have said nothing about a socialist Labor engagement in Afghanistan.

 

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