Michael's Dispatches

Low Metal Content

Bomb Tricks and Techniques in Afghanistan


08 July 2011

The enemy sees our people use metal detectors every day.  Last time I was with the British, hardly a step was taken without waving the divining rod over the ground.  You try to step into the step of the troop in front of you, and there are times when you don’t even take a single step off that hairline, intermittent path unless you are in a firefight.  But even on paths that are “cleared,” if only by a metal detector and then only the precise footsteps you are trying to match—which dangerously refocuses your attention—that is not enough.  Expertly trained dogs won’t do it.  They are highly useful in equally highly constrained ways.  Dogs will walk right over a bomb and must be kept cool like a tuna sandwich or, at best, they won’t work.  Their attention span in the heat wanders like that of a puppy.  In the heat of southern Afghanistan, dogs don’t look for bombs; they seek shade and water and quickly become a liability.

The “cleared” path is not cleared.  The only part that has been pressure-tested has a boot print as a seal of approval, and that’s only true on ground where you can see a boot print.  Even on soft ground, you can only see boot prints during daylight.  At night you only use flashlights after someone is wounded or killed.  Still, the boot print stamp of approval is worth little more than an Afghan promissory note.  Oftentimes the first trooper who steps on a trigger does not get blown up.  It might be the third or fourth or seventh.  Others already have stepped on the trigger but it did not fire.  Even that is not the rest of the story.  The bomb itself often is not with the trigger.  The man who steps on a simple land mine is the man who bears the brunt.  But with these IEDs, the trigger might detonate multiple explosives “daisy chained” along the way.

To foil the first line of defense, the enemy has created low metal content triggers.  Some are of plastic or wood.  Others use the carbon rod component of D-cell batteries.  The enemy knows that our metal detectors will miss the conductive carbon rod, and so they pull these out.  Batteries that have been ripped apart is bad sign.

165923-3-web-1000pxThe carbon rod

Invariably someone will cry OPSEC violation here.  It’s not; I learned this from the enemy.  Their OPSEC has been violated, not ours.  That they know that we know that they know that we know they use RPGs; is not an OPSEC violation.  Nor is this.


The carbon rods are installed in an improvised crush plate.


Foam separates the rods and sometimes the first person to step on it does not sufficiently crush the foam.  The relatively low metal in the wires might be missed by the detector.


Connection is made and detonation occurs.


The improvised explosives are often found in these bright jugs.  These jugs often contain an anti-handling device and when the jug is disturbed, it explodes.

The many tricks are evolving. 

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