News: Afghans take the lead against IEDs
Story by Erica Fouche
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan – The Afghan National Army and Afghan Uniform Police continue training to take control of the fight against improvised explosive devices and all explosive ordnance device missions from coalition forces within the next year.
Fourteen ANA soldiers and AUP officers graduated from the IED-defeat course at the Afghan EOD school Feb. 21. This eight-week course is the most advanced regime currently available for EOD training, providing critical hands-on experience with C-IED equipment and putting students in live-action scenarios where they can learn the best tactics, techniques and procedures.
“After graduating from the IEDD course, the students go on to be IEDD1 operators themselves or become EOD team leaders in their own units,” said Chris Snaith, chief EOD instructor. “It’s a very challenging course because it is a dangerous mission, but it is one that is critical to the future of Afghanistan.”
To increase the effectiveness of the training, students are taught with the same equipment they will use in the field.
“The ANA and AUP currently have access to about 300 bomb disposal robots to conduct their IED and EOD missions and they receive training on those same robots here. Students are also educated using the same suits they’ll wear once embedded with their units so the information is more likely to transfer with them when they’re no longer here.”
Since its 2007 inception, the school has graduated 312 IED operators, a statistic that is expected to steadily rise.
“By the end of 2013 we hope to conduct our training independently, without any support from the coalition forces or NATO,” said Col. Ahmadullah, school commander. “We have already filled 70 percent of C-IED operator vacancies within the Afghan National Security Forces and we want to continue to not only do that, but encourage graduates to rotate back and serve as trainers themselves. This will help maintain communication between the school and those operators in the field. It’s how we’ll get better.”
Prior to attending the IEDD course, students are required to complete an intensive 13-week EOD course where they receive basic search and detection training, learn how to identify various hazards and unexploded ordnances, and how to conduct blow-in-place operations. EOD graduates are certified to serve as EOD team members or to continue their education in the IEDD course.
Lt. Col. Rahim Dad, a graduate of the very first IEDD course, now works as the school’s EOD/IEDD course commander and has seen firsthand how valuable the training is, particularly its NATO mentors.
“When the school was first established we had problems with our guys not being able to read and write and knowing very little about IEDs. After the coalition forces came to help, the validation process became more efficient and we saw a great increase in the graduation rates. In addition to the 312 IEDD graduates, 890 EDO operators have completed training here.”
Although the mentors are a mixture of coalition forces, the instructors of both courses are actually Afghan nationals.
“We use the Afghan instructors because they’re obviously proficient in the students’ language, making the training more conducive,” said Ray Lunbeck, a retired U.S. Air Force EOD operator. “The instructors are certified deminers, they’re EOD trained, and possess the necessary knowledge and capabilities to best relay to the students. It’s all to help facilitate valuable training so the Afghans can begin training their own forces without outside assistance.”
After several weeks of classroom instruction, students have two attempts to pass their actual assessment tests.
“We really don’t have a lot of failures with the assessments,” said Snaith. “Afghans are naturally quite practical people so they will find solutions even if they don’t understand the theory. We just really want to make sure that they determine the correct solution and understand the theories as best as possible."
Fourteen percent of IEDD graduates are killed by explosives within the first two years of being on the job. It is a staggering statistic that reinforces the need for the mentors, instructors and students to take the training seriously, learn the safety precautions, and become as familiar with detonations as possible.
“We are here to help,” said Snaith. “We know we won’t always be, but for now our intentions are to help the ANSF build smart, capable IED and EOD teams.”
Ahmadullah stresses the importance of the mission and the students’ safety as often as possible.
“At today’s ceremony I told the graduates that if you stop the IEDs, you save the lives of our people and build strong relationships with Afghan civilians. The enemy is not able to fight us face to face, so we need to take away their main fighting power by defeating IEDs.”