News: ANA, Australian soldiers patrol, find weapons caches
Story by Spc. Jennifer Spradlin
URUZGAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan and Australian engineer and infantry soldiers set off in a tactical formation from the edge of the construction site where a new Afghan National Army patrol base is being built, down the steep slope of a stony hill and into the rural countryside.
The combined patrol is part of a larger Afghan-led and Coalition-partnered push into areas of the Uruzgan Province once under insurgent control.
On Nov. 13, Coalition Forces located two weapons caches in this area. The first cache, hidden in a pile of rocks, turned up two 82mm mortars. The second cache, hidden in the face of a rock wall lining an aqueduct, was located during the evening hours. A decision was made to leave the second cache in place with over-watch until a full inspection of its contents could be performed.
The patrol’s mission was to recover the cache and continue to inspect the areas around the aqueduct to determine if more weapon caches could be recovered.
For the soldiers of the Afghan Engineer Company, 4th Combat Support Kandak, 4th Brigade and the Australian Mentoring Task Force 2, patrols like these are an important opportunity for the ANA to utilize their training. Training that will help the ANA to locate weapons caches and improvised explosive devices used by the enemy to undermine their operations and hurt local civilians.
“We’re trying to set them up so that they can do this sort of stuff without us,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel Trevena, MTF-2 engineer soldier. “They still have a little bit to learn, but as they make mistakes we correct them. They are very keen to listen.”
The soldiers cross through ankle-high water, bitterly cold in the early morning and move across a section of fertile, green farmland before arriving at the cache. The metal signature from the cache causes the metal detectors to chirp with anticipation, but the soldiers continue to search the area surrounding the cache to check that the site is secure and nothing had been compromised during the night.
The Australian soldiers radio for permission to pull the cache from the wall to inspect it. Permission is granted and the entire patrol moves an appropriate distance from the cache to ensure safety. A cord is attached to a wrench-like tool and connected to an edge of the fabric encasing the cache. Although an Australian soldier does the work, he mentors an Afghan soldier through the process, pointing out indicators that might signal danger. From behind the cover of a line of thorn bushes, an Australian soldier begins to pull and tighten the rope attached to the cache. It is sprung free from the wall.
With permission, the ANA and Australian soldiers approach the cache and cut away a small flap of the material covering it. They discover it is a directional fragmentation charge (an explosive device loaded with metal bits such as screws and nails to inflict maximum damage) and also that it appears to be rigged to a telephone.
Any IED find requires the additional support of explosive ordnance disposal teams. The soldiers create a security cordon to protect civilians and other units from harm until EOD arrives.
At this point the patrol splits and some of the ANA and Australian soldiers continue their search while a number of soldiers wait for EOD. The ANA soldiers meet with a few local civilians that have approached the patrol. They discuss suspicious activities in the area and any locations of possible weapons caches. The ANA leads the Australians to a compound where they believe suspicious parties live.
A dual search is conducted of the site with the use of the Minelabs, or metal detectors. It turns up nothing. The patrol skirts the edge of the main village, travelling up through another area of farmland and along the path of the aqueduct as it curves and twists. The mud here is so deep it creates a thick, suction effect and makes it difficult to walk, but the soldiers don’t take the footpaths because they have learned that the insurgents place IED's in areas that are easier to cross.
Several hours elapse as the patrol brings the soldiers back to the initial site of the weapons cache. The Australian EOD team has arrived and is preparing to inspect the device. Ultimately, they will determine that the device is too unstable for recovery and destroy the device where it is.
The explosion is loud; it sends big plumes of smoke and debris into the sky. The Australian soldiers cheer, comparing the find to an early Christmas present.
“If we take their IED's and weapons caches off them, it’s less things for them to use against not only the local people but the ANA and us,” said Trevena.