Spring brings renewed risk from IEDs, and political solutions seem a long way off. Julius Cavendish reports from Pashmul
Under a baby-blue sky Sgt Michael Ingram was bleeding his life into the Afghan dirt. Explosives hidden in a mud house had taken off both his legs, and as the call went out for a medic, it took a moment to realise that the medic was also hurt, along with a third US soldier who had taken shrapnel in his shoulder.
One of the most popular men in Charlie Company, First Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, Sgt Ingram died from massive blood loss. “There is no way to comprehend an IED (improvised explosive device) until you see someone hit one,” Lt Mark Morrison, a platoon leader in the same company, said later. “Then everything changes.”
In the half-deserted village of Pashmul – as much a front line as any in southern Afghanistan’s indefinite war of ambush and IED – Taliban fighters are stepping up the fight. With fighters arriving from Helmand and Pakistan, and budding vegetation providing ample cover, the Taliban are using bolder tactics in an attempt to suck foreign forces into a battle of attrition. “The Taliban want to pull us into the grape fields,” Charlie Company’s commander, Capt Duke Reim, said. “Slowly take a company from 130 [men] and bring it down to 115. That’s what they’re looking to do, because the more we focus here on the grape fields the less we focus on Kandahar [City],” – which, with its hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, is the prize in Nato’s population-centric campaign. Read the rest of this entry »
To thwart militants in Afghanistan from planting roadside bombs, or IEDs, US soldiers are pleading with locals to alert them to threats. Air surveillance can be too imprecise and approval for airstrikes too slow in coming.
COMBAT OUTPOST JFM, AFGHANISTAN
The metal detector was almost off the scale.
In front of a dusty track lay a five-foot-wide crater where an Afghan farmer had been killed by a roadside bomb. Scrap metal used for shrapnel was buried everywhere.
For the United States and coalition soldiers fighting theTaliban, every civilian the insurgents kill adds weight to the argument they repeat over and over: “The solution is to make the Taliban go away,” Lt. Mark Morrison, a US platoon leader from Albany, N.Y., deployed in southern Afghanistan, told villagers. “That way you won’t be in danger, and I won’t be in danger.” Read the rest of this entry »
Villagers are threatened with beheading if they inform on the Taliban
The four men digging on the road exploded silently. The video feed from a US helicopter gunship showed a volley of rockets dispatching them with brutal efficiency. Under the cover of darkness they had been planting an improvised explosive device (IED) on a route used recently by American soldiers.
It was a rare success in the battle against the Taliban bomb-makers, responsible for so many coalition casualties in Afghanistan. They were, perhaps, the kind of men that may eventually, if the peace plan approved in London actually works, accept Western money to come off the battlefield and turn instead to working on a farm or be trained for a job.
For now, the emphasis of the Nato campaign remains firmly fixed on preventing civilian casualties. The problem is that insurgents laying IEDs are usually long gone before soldiers get confirmation of all the criteria needed to order an attack. Read the rest of this entry »