Michael's Dispatches

Bad Medicine


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The imagery from November 2004 does not show the power lines in the photo below.  I made the photo below from nearly the same angle as the image above.  So, the EOD soldiers on top of the truck are in the corner of the compound overlooking Pharmacy Road.  The soldiers are a few meters from where the yellow thumbtack denotes “Blown Vehicles.”

The EOD team is rigging this wall to blow part of it down.  On the other side of the wall are the two blown-up vehicles; one of the vehicles is British and the other is the trailer from a “jingo truck.”  The area surrounding the trucks is booby-trapped with explosives, and the vehicles also are booby-trapped.  So the goal is to blow down the wall and drag the vehicles off the road and into this compound.

These EOD soldiers wear a Rainbow patch and call themselves Team Rainbow, which of course seemed quite curious.

The wall is so thick and strong that Team Rainbow put about 200 pounds of plastic explosive in all the right places, then rolled out the wire.  The reader might be surprised to see what 200 pounds of high explosives does to the wall.

Team Rainbow and LtCol Thomson stayed up close, but I got behind the farthest vehicle because I have no pride in my courage.  Some people think this is crazy work, but I’m actually a safety fanatic.

When the enemy hears a detonation—which typically occurs many times per day—they wait for helicopters, knowing that if helicopters swoop in and land, they have achieved success.  Many of the enemy bombs in Sangin are detonated by command wire, while many others are pressure-activated and are simply improvised land mines.  The enemy often uses pressure cookers to make bombs, just as was done by the Maoists in Nepal.  In Nepal, the government began confiscating pressure cookers (which angered many people), and the government often shut down cell service (angering many people) because the Maoists used cell phones.  The Maoists won the war.  We are operating far smarter in Afghanistan.  Here it’s the enemy who actually shuts down cell towers—and this angers the people.  Also, the enemy bombs around here are killing a lot of innocent people, and this also angers the people.  Despite progress made by the Taliban, they alienate many people.

And so that’s all that 200lbs of high explosives, in perfect contact with the target, placed by experts, could do to this wall.  When soldiers come back from Afghanistan and say that the compounds are like fortresses, this is what they mean.  The electrical wires, which cannot be seen in the Google Earth imagery of 2004, got blown down.  The EOD soldiers wanted to avoid the live electrical wires.  EOD called the Royal Engineers to come up with a non-destructive solution to the wires.  Within minutes they thought of a solution.  The vehicle above cut a notch in the top of the far wall with his scooper.

He drove the scooper machine to the front and opened the wall to let a bigger truck inside.  The Engineers hooked webbing around the electrical wires, and using the winch on the big truck, pulled the wires up and draped them over the notch the scooper had cut.  EOD was back in business clearing Pharmacy Road.  In fact, the soldier who is driving the scooper is the same driver who got blown up on Pharmacy Road, and his blown up vehicle is one that they were about to drag into the compound.

It can be very rattling out here.  But they keep getting blown up and going, and the enemy is getting it worse.

Preparing plastic explosives in slivers of shade.  Iraqis thought our body armor was air conditioners, and thought we have “cold pills” to chill us out.  The soldiers carry far more weight than I do, and they work three times harder.  This heat is bad even for me, but much worse for them.  Often U.S. and British soldiers end up back at the hospital after they collapse, but in nearly all cases they come straight back to the fight.  There was a U.S. battalion in the 1st Infantry Division in Baquba, Iraq, who were constantly pumping IVs so they could outlast the enemy.

SSgt Schmid of the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (JFOD).  Dealing with hidden bombs made by pernicious enemies requires special people.  I asked Ssgt Schmid which wire he cuts when dealing with booby-traps—red wire, or the green?—SSgt Schmid just laughed and kept working.

The blown-up vehicles were dragged through the blown-up wall under the blown-down wires.

As the midday sun pounded down, the EOD soldiers continued to work in the heat.  LtCol Rob Thomson stayed out in the boiling sun with the men.  I retreated with some others to a cooler place that was halfway underground.  Most of us soon fell asleep as the EOD soldiers kept blasting, blasting, blasting.  They must have made dozens of explosions during the day and they never seemed to take a break.  None of them, nor LtCol Thomson, ever took even a minute of shade break with us.

After an afternoon of blasting, LtCol Rob Thomson headed to PB Wishtan, but my gear was back at Tangiers, where some ANA were preparing for a mission.

During the clearance, this soldier fell off a ladder.  He was all the way at the top, about fifteen feet high.  Luckily he was wearing his helmet because he said he also cracked his head.  His spirits were good but he seemed a little embarrassed for falling off, but accidents like this happen a lot.  Even when nobody is shooting, there are plentiful ways to get hurt out here.  In the background are two improvised cots where I slept the second night.  Just on the other side of the barrier, the Hescoes got hit some months ago by an RPG, as seen below.

RPGs are simple but enormously effective.

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