In the line of fire: Afghanistan’s IED experts
The Telegraph February 17, 2012
The heavy doors of the armoured personnel carrier swung open with a bang: Warrant Officer Gareth Wood (known to everyone as Woody) was about to tackle his first improvised explosive device (IED) of the day.
The hum of engines was replaced by the shrill whine of metal detectors as the search team set to work. After locating the device they stood in a huddle, chatting and chain-smoking. A sniper was called forward and moved into position, scanning the horizon for trouble. Woody picked up his metal detector and started walking towards the bomb – alone. Everyone watched him go. He lay down, the bomb inches from his head, and started brushing away dirt with a knife and a paintbrush, as careful as an archaeologist. ‘You’re in your own little world,’ he would tell me later. ‘It’s quite surreal.’
When Woody, who is married with two children, left for Afghanistan in early 2010, he knew it was far from certain that he would return home. ‘There’d been a mass of casualties,’ he recalls now. ‘I think there was a one-in-six chance of us not coming back.’ In the lead-up to his deployment, his fellow bomb disposal operator, Staff Sgt Olaf ‘Oz’ Schmid, a close friend and colleague from 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, died while defusing a roadside bomb near Sangin, after having successfully neutralised 64 bombs during his five-month tour. Another friend and fellow operator, Capt Daniel Read (also from 11 EOD), was killed while tackling a device in northern Helmand. ‘I didn’t go to Dan’s repatriation,’ Woody recalls. ‘It was literally hours before I was due to fly out to Afghanistan; I couldn’t face it.’
Bomb disposal experts have never been in greater demand: Afghanistan has become an IED war. The huge number of these homemade bombs is seriously disrupting Nato operations in the country, and efforts to reconstruct it. Almost 400 British soldiers and MoD personnel have died since Britain entered the war in Afghanistan 10 years ago, and the majority of casualties since 2008 have been from improvised explosives. They also accounted for nearly 1,000 civilian deaths in the country last year, according to a new UN report. In December it was announced that British troops were to receive £400 million- worth of new kit to counter the threat. Bombs costing pennies have proved a match for a military machine costing billions.
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