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Explosives experts in bloody dance with bombmakers

Explosives dog handler Jacob Evans had no hint of the mine that ripped into his legs. Neither did his detection dog, nor the US patrol that had already walked over the buried charge.

world Updated: Jul 26, 2010 12:46 IST

Explosives dog handler Jacob Evans had no hint of the mine that ripped into his legs. Neither did his detection dog, nor the US patrol that had already walked over the buried charge.

Specialist Evans had arrived at Combat Outpost Nolen to help clear a ring of Improvised Explosive Devices taking a vicious toll on US and Afghan soldiers inside, penning them in easy firing range of a village used by Taliban fighters.

The mine that maimed one foot and both legs was hidden in front of a gateway to a field. Evans, 22, from Indian Mound Tennessee, detonated it on Friday while backtracking from an alley with his patrol, sent to provide him with cover.

"He was actually very lucky. He didn't lose his foot and he will probably recover in six months to a year," said Sgt. Leon Richards, who has seen several similar blasts just weeks into his deployment with the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne.

Combat Outpost Nolen, a small mud-walled school in the middle of grape and pomegranate fields that provide cover for insurgents, has experienced some of the most intense fighting in Arghandab district, a key insurgent supply and infiltration route to Kandahar city.

It is in the heart of the Taliban's spiritual home, and typical of the area the 150 strong NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) must first secure for any hope of official governance or development to arrive.

While guns and rocket grenades target the base almost daily, it is the homemade bombs taking the greatest mental and physical toll on foreign troops. Two have already lost both legs.

"We've seen a shift here to what we call low magnetic IEDs," said 1st Lt. Charles Asmus, 25, a bomb disposal expert from Oak Harbor, Washington state.
"They use a lot of plastic jugs to hold home made explosive, some of the wire they use is difficult to pick up," Asmus said.

"It's the same counter IED game, with them using things to make it difficult to find them, while we try to think up ways to find them better."
Signal jamming equipment cannot counter more traditionally detonated bombs, while troops at Nolen say mines are sometimes left dormant when soldiers pass, but detonate on their return.

While the bombs are smaller than the armoured vehicle breaking bombs favoured by Iraq insurgents, their use reached a high across Afghanistan in late June with more than 300 exploded or located, up from about 50 a week in mid 2007.
A rare, larger charge buried beside an irrigation bridge on Friday destroyed an armoured truck in front of a vehicle in which journalists were travelling. The four soldiers and interpreters inside escaped with minor injuries thanks to new IED resistant technology.

"It is very different from Iraq. This area is incredibly difficult to manoeuvre in. It's incredibly difficult to anticipate what you're going to see the next day. They use several different types of initiation systems," said Asmus.

But the Taliban were also making mistakes in their bomb making technology, he said, and using crude methods that resulted in premature explosions, likely killing the bombmaker, although their bodies are rarely found.

Evans, in an interview with Reuters before his wounding, said he had hoped his dog would be able to pick up any threat, being trained on more than 60 types of explosive odour and having worked previously in Iraq.

"I've heard that this area that we're in right now is the hot spot," Evans said. "The units are pretty good at taking care of us. I'm really not worried about it."
"My dog and I have been together for four years, so he and I kind of have that trust and that bond. I got his back and he's got mine."

First Published: Jul 26, 2010 12:32 IST