KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - In 2008 there were more than 3,000 Improvised Explosive Device strikes in Afghanistan, a 45% increase from 2007, and the attacks continue in 2009 with IED's in every form posing one of the largest threats to coalition forces. Regional Command South's Joint Task Force Paladin's sole purpose is to defeat that threat.
Trained, equipped and manned - Joint Task Force Paladin South is not a new task force, but the command here in Kandahar has only been on ground for two months. The command was recently transferred to the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11, a Battalion size Navy element, based out of Whidbey Island, Wash. They are the second Navy EOD Battalion to be deployed to Southern Afghanistan.
"The main mission for JTF Paladin South is to conduct counter IED operations across the battle space, more so, coordinate counter IED across the battle space with all respective owners and maneuver elements", said the Commanding Officer, Navy Commander Richard Hayes.
JTF Paladin South has seen an increase in the detection and discovery of emplaced IEDs and a decrease in the employment of those IEDs since they've been here. Their battle space command and control responsibility ranges from RC-S to portions of Regional Command West, from portions of the borders of Iran to the borders of Pakistan. That's partly due to their capabilities and highly trained force. The task force is comprised of multi-force EOD and CIED enablers.
"When I talk about CIED Enablers we're talking EOD forces; EOD elements from all 4 services and others enablers such as analysts, statisticians and other operation folks [who] help enable the CIED fight", said Hayes.
Marine EOD and EOD counter enablers also work closely with the task force in the Leatherneck area of operations, and partners with Afghan national army and Afghan national police to train future CIED enablers.
EOD operators go through a rigorous year-long training cycle at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., before they're titled as such. Additionally, these operators train with the units they will deploy with to learn their respective tactics, techniques and procedures. "We want to ensure that all the EOD operators are properly outfitted, trained, and educated on that threat."
JTF Paladin South is anticipating additional troops arriving to the task force to assist in the fight against IEDs. "We're hopeful that we will get our share of EOD operators here. We will task organize them accordingly, based on the mission, based on the threat, to ensure that every Soldier and Marine that is operating out there is operating safely and efficiently," said Hayes.
As concerned as JTF Paladin South and it's command is with minimizing and eliminating the IED threat to all serving in Afghanistan and RC South, that concern extends to the civilian population.
"The security of [Afghan] civilians is, of course, my number one priority as well. And we do that by integrating ourselves with the maneuver elements, in those high-threat areas, where IEDs are most prevalent," said Hayes. "Part of that, ensuring the safety of the civilians, is integrating with the ANA & ANP. Right now they have limited EOD capacity, but they continue to build it every day. We're critical to that. As time goes on, we'll integrate more with the Afghan national security forces to ensure that they are able to mitigate the threat the best they can."
JTF Paladin South has a number of tools in their kit to combat IEDs. One such tool is the robot named "Talon", ruggedly designed to withstand blasts and navigate challenging terrain to investigate suspected IED locations. Having such capable tools reduces the risk to the EOD operator and allows the forces to disable those devices. "Having the robot keeps the guys out of the bomb suit", said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Campbell, an EOD Team Leader for JTF Paladin South.
While the task force face challenges such as proper manning levels and resources, and their compound is currently comprised of a grouping of tents, containers and hesco barriers, they remain confident they will succeed against insurgency and secure the area for the Afghan populace.
This work, Task Force defends ISAF forces and defeats IED's in Southern Afghanistan, by MAJ Allie Payne, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.