An Afghan National Civil Order Policeman carefully crushes away dirt from an area believed to contain an Improvised Explosive Device during a training exercise at the Camp Hero Explosive Hazards Reduction Course (EHRC) for Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in southern Kandahar province April 5. (Photo/U.S. Army Sgt. Amanda M. Hils)
KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Surrounded by the debris of previously detonated objects, students from Camp Hero's Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) Explosive Hazards Reduction Course (EHRC) climb out of their truck with mine detectors. Walking on either side of their vehicle, the Afghan National Army (ANA) Soldier and Afghan Uniformed Policeman (AUP) check the immediate area to ensure a safe dismount for the rest of their team members.
Recruited Afghan servicemembers from all over Regional Command (South), Task Force Paladin (South) and their Afghan counterparts at Camp Hero comprise the four-week-long EHRC to train and improve ANSF capabilities in identifying and removing the threat of explosives in the battle space.
"These guys are going to be filling empty spaces in EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] units,” said Army Cpt. Benjamin J. Beck, EOD Partnership officer in charge, Task Force Paladin (South).
There are 30 students split into three groups, he said, with two Afghan and two Australian instructors.
Around the perimeter of the training site, four of the students are patrolling to ensure 360-degree security around the vulnerable area. The second student, an Afghan Uniformed Policeman, drags a long rod called a gaff, staring intensely at the ground in front of him and his team.
"Right now they're dragging for command wire, checking to make sure the safe area is secure,” said Beck.
Having spotted something suspicious at the curve in the road ahead, the students must ensure that every precaution is taken for the team going in to identify the area.
"It's a hard job because if there are mistakes, they can really get hurt or worse,” said ANA Sgt. Bahadar, EHRC instructor, engineer platoon noncommissioned officer, Commando Line Kandak, 205th Corps. "They are very careful because it's such a dangerous job.”
"When we got to Afghanistan, we looked at the program that used to be in place and decided that we wanted to re-start it in mid-November. The first class was in early December,” said Beck. "We identify graduates with instructor potential and get approval to bring them onto the course as an apprentice instructor.”
"By mid-to-late summer, we believe that instruction of the course will be entirely Afghan-led,” he added.
Walking 100 meters towards the possible IED, students approach with caution and mine detectors. When the lead student arrives at the suspected device, he carefully sets down the detector behind him and lies down on his stomach.
Using exact and modest movements, he pulls out a tool mine probe and begins the process of loosening and brushing away the dirt and sand covering the suspect device.
The process is long, taking concentration and a delicate hand. Eventually, each brush begins to expose shades of orange beneath the loose earth.
It is a jerrycan, or bushka, a large steel container that is made to hold about twenty liters of fuel that has been buried in the ground, ready to detonate as the team's vehicle came around that bend in the road.
Dropping markers near the IED, the Soldier slowly pushes himself up, carefully retrieving the mine detector and makes his way back to report to his team.
"Before, we had a lot of problems with land mines and IEDs,” said Bahadar. "Now we are successful because of the training. I am a professional. My guys are professionals. We do not have as many casualties as before.”
The training is designed to teach the Afghan forces to recognize and identify hazards in things that appear normal and to understand proper precautions if they find themselves in such a situation. In every nation and every service, EOD teams are elite because of the dangerous and specific nature of their jobs. All service members are taught about explosives and the dangers, but there are few that can take care of that threat.
"We learn all about the Taliban's tactics, working on IEDs, command wire, isolation… This has been very useful for us,” said ANA Sgt. Quadratullah, student, Commando Line Kandak, 20th Corps. "Before, I found mines but I was an unprofessional engineer and couldn't do the job safely. Now I am a professional.”
The EOD Soldier, an ANA Commando, makes his way to the jerrycan IED, sweeping carefully with the mine detector, keeping an eye out for the brightly colored markers his team places.
Following the same procedure of efficient, careful movements, the EHRC student lays down, face-to-face with the orange explosive. He brings out the detonation cord and C4 to blow the IED in place, so that the team can move on with their mission.
After initiating the process, he moves back to his team. The Commando has three minutes before the blast.
The puff of dust and pop of the detonation lets the students and their instructor know that their training exercise was a success.
With all of the groups finished, the instructors gathered them back in their classroom- a building filled with examples of different mines, rockets, IEDs and posters outlining the training techniques that are their lifeline. In here, the instructors talk about their final week; the upcoming exams, life after the course and who would like to come back for further training to become an instructor.
"I am very happy. This is very satisfying for me,” said Bahadar. "When the students first came here, they didn't know which mines were which, what the detectors were… I just watched this time. The guys have learned.”
Story and photos by Sgt. Amanda M. Hils
Regional Command (South) Headquarters PAO