For some troops, Afghan war chiefly a bat­tle against con­cealed bombs

Austin American-Statesman - - SATURDAYBRIEFING - By heidi vogt

ARGHANDAB VAL­LEY, Afghanistan — The U.S. forces’ en­emy is al­most in­vis­i­ble in parts of this lush val­ley in south­ern Afghanistan. It comes not as gun­men but as bombs planted on foot­paths, wedged into walls, nes­tled in trees and hid­den un­der bridges.

The sol­diers of Bravo Com­pany, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 508th Parachute In­fantry Reg­i­ment, 82nd Air­borne Di­vi­sion have been in only one sig­nif­i­cant fire­fight in the more than six months they’ve been in a 1.2-square-mile area north of Kan­da­har city.

But nearly ev­ery day they en­counter bombs. Bravo Com­pany’s dogged fight for con­trol of the south­ern end of the Arghandab river val­ley is a con­stant bat­tle against home­made bombs — known as im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices, or IEDs — which ac­counted for about 40 per­cent of U.S. fa­tal­i­ties in 2009, ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press tally of NATO re­ports.

And the bombs don’t dis­crim­i­nate. They also ac­counted for 60 per­cent of the 600 Afghan civil­ian ca­su­al­ties from Jan­uary through June this year, NATO says.

Typ­i­cally, troops de­pend on ord­nance dis­posal teams for bomb ex­perts. Those teams are in Arghandab too, but in Bravo Com­pany the av­er­age sol­dier has acquired some in­tense on-the-job train­ing in spot­ting bombs. Sol­diers de­scribe a sort of sixth sense that de­vel­ops af­ter en­coun­ter­ing so many.

“We’re look­ing for booby traps, trip wires or just the ab­sence of the nor­mal,” said Lt. Ross Wein­shenker, 24, who com­mands one of the two pla­toons that pa­trol out of the com­pany’s main com­bat out­post.

Three sol­diers in the com­pany have been killed by buried ex­plo­sives, and al­most ev­ery sol­dier has en­coun­tered one.

Capt. Adam Arm­strong, the com­pany com­man­der, said more than 20 of its roughly 150 sol­diers in Arghandab have been wounded.

Sgt. Erik Hoek­sema, a 34-year-old Chicagoan, was hit twice in two weeks. His first came when his truck struck a bomb in April, giv­ing him a con­cus­sion.

Then, on his first pa­trol af­ter re­turn­ing from that in­jury, a fel­low sol­dier stepped on a buried bomb. The other sol­dier lost his foot. Hoek­sema was lucky enough to get away with just a sec­ond con­cus­sion.

Buried ex­plo­sives ap­pear to have ta­pered off in re­cent weeks, since the cap­ture of a ma­jor bomb-mak­ing unit in the area, Arm­strong said. But the sol­diers re­main vig­i­lant. “I don’t have any false ideas. They have plenty of peo­ple to re­place them,” Hoek­sema said of the cap­tured bomb-mak­ers. One of Bravo Com­pany’s sol­diers con­tends with a flock of sheep while on pa­trol Fri­day in the bomb-plagued Arghandab val­ley.

Kevin frayer As­so­Ci­ATeD PRess

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.