COMBAT OUTPOST LAKARAY, Afghanistan – On June 4, just two days before her 25th birthday, she was thousands of miles away from home searching for components of improvised explosive devices in a small cave located just east of the village of Yaro Kalay. Moments later, she heard that two anti-personnel mines were found by the Afghan Border Police in a nearby abandoned house. To the north, further clearance uncovered two directional fragmentation charges hidden along a crumbling wall. This may seem overwhelming to some, but it was just another day for Staff Sgt. Kendall Reed of the 630th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company out of Fort Riley, Kan.
Reed was inside that cave because of the ABP-led Operation Southern Strike II, which focused on disrupting insurgent supply routes and hampering their ability to fight Afghan and coalition forces in the Spin Boldak district last week.
“We got called up to the cave because the ABP had entered the cave with intent to clear it,” said Reed. “They found a white wire coming from the wall, pulled on it, and dirt crumbled away and there sat six damaged ball bearing pressure plates.”
Reed entered the cave to verify where the IED components were found and to check for any secondary caches.
“They were about 40 feet inside the cave,” she continued. “I went in and cleared the cave myself, made sure they didn’t miss anything – they got everything out.”
After the cave was cleared, the IED initiators were photographed and bagged.
“We collected them for evidence,” she continued. “We’re going to send them up to get examined.”
Less than a mile away, near a pomegranate grove, the ABP discovered another cache site, which contained actual explosives.
“The ABP notified us that they found some landmines inside one of the houses that they were clearing, so we went in and verified it,” she said. “After discovering the landmines, we found two 20-liter jugs, which is about 80lbs of explosives.”
The yellow jugs were filled with ammonium nitrate and aluminum, which is a form of homemade explosives, she said.
One of the jugs was already prepped with detonation cord, which ran underneath that jug. Fearing that it was an anti-tamper booby trap, Reed determined it was best to blow the cache in place.
“After we got the approval from the ABP that they didn’t want the house even standing anymore – because it was a ‘bad guy’ house – we placed our C4 down and rolled it out,” said Reed. “The head of the ABP, Ataullah – since he was the guy that pointed it out – we allowed him to pull the shot to initiate it. He was very excited about that.”
Not too far away from the house, another treasure trove of explosives was found near a wall in an overgrown field.
“We also found two DFCs [directional fragmentation charges] that day. The other EOD team on scene ended up exploiting that,” she added. “Those explosives were found against a wall near the tactical assembly area.”
Although Reed and her team have to deal with the caches, the work by the ABP is much appreciated.
“They’re doing all the finding. Honestly, for our job, finding it is the hardest,” she said. “Once the cache or the IED is found, the easy part is dealing with it. Then all we have to worry about is secondary IEDs.”
Reed says that the ABP is doing a great job at finding caches and other IED emplacement sites.
“They tell us exactly where it is,” she said. “Most of the time, they clear right up to it, and that’s what takes the time.”
During Operation Southern Strike II, the ABP had multiple good hits, and the ones that didn’t payoff were determined to be previous cache sites.
“I’ll go off one of their tips any day, because they know the people,” she continued. “They know where the IEDs have been emplaced in the past. Chances are that’s where they’ll be in the future.”
Although the Afghans played a huge role during this mission, she couldn’t have done it alone.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without my team. Ultimately, they do all the really hard stuff, making sure I’m doing everything safe. They are the ones that have to haul the robot and haul all the big heavy gear.”
Reed says the majority of IEDs are not discovered by EOD and offers advice to patrolling units who may come in contact with the deadly devices.
“Distance is your friend when it comes to explosives. Put distance between you and the IED. Then start doing your 5s and 25s and keep looking out for secondary IEDs.”
By the end of Operation Southern Strike II, the Afghans and Americans recovered more than 1,400 pounds of explosives along with 19 personnel mines, 12 pressure plates, two DFCs, and dozens of other components of IEDs. The joint taskforce also survived five IED strikes without any injuries.