This subject is hardly what you might expect to see covered on a blog of this sort, but I have just finished a fascinating book which moved me to write a piece about it. The book also contains a little about the role of the helicopter in Iraq and the way they supplement IOD operations, so perhaps it fits here in a strange, indirect way.
I wince (don’t we all) at the news bringing reports of troop casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan due to IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). They come out with an erratic relentlessness; the pointless, sickening carnage being washed from the the public conscious before the blood gets washed from street. In a perverse way our minds seem to accept the inevitability of the events when they involve military forces, but the factionally based, indiscriminate targeting of the ‘other sides’ innocents (by both parties, Sunni and Shia) takes on a particularly evil cloak when women and children are involved. Intimidation and ethnic cleansing by the foulest means.
The largely unsung heroes of these conflicts are the bomb disposal experts – the IOD Officer, who forms the front of house member, and his team who supports and protects him. Working against the clock, the climate and often a hostile populace they take their courage in their hands and as they prosecute their war against those who steal lives and limbs.
Saving lives by disabling these nasty objects is only half the game they play; collecting intelligence that will point to the hand of the bomber that may ultimately be critical in his destruction or capture is another vital part of the job.
It comes as a mild surprise that these brave lads really love their work, the intense relationships this occupation forges and the pressures they are placed under must turn them into adrenaline addicts living on their nerves. Thankfully blistering soldier’s wit lightens the darkest corners of this book. In fact I laughed a lot as no doubt you will at the rich and colorful language and the unique nature of the squaddies humor.
I can only imagine what courage it must take even to climb in the back of a lightly armored Snatch Landrover to go out to a job on through streets of Basra, let alone face disarming a device that contains a variety of tricks hidden aboard to kill the disarmer. They all have my admiration, every man Jack – and woman. As David (below) makes clear, female soldiers are very much part of the operational scene on the streets.
David Hunter did tours of duty in Bosnia, Columbia and latterly in Iraq fighting this mentally torturous battle of wits and in his remarkably frank and informative book ‘Eight lives Down’ he takes us on an exciting and emotional ride during a tour in Iraq.
As a British Army Captain heading up his IOD team he recounts his deployment disarming devices and collecting intelligence to hunt down the bomb makers. After disarming an average of one device per day his individual effort is noted by his sector’s bombing teams who put the word out for his murder and lay a price on his head. What follows is a cat and mouse game where the bombers try to set him and his guys up for a deeply personal vaporizing.
The rest I will leave to the book but he has interesting things not say about our joint services support effort and the courage and dedication of our troops. I was moved by his experiences and read the book in two sittings. When I finally placed it down I was wrung out and full of admiration for the British Soldier at his best excelling himself in the execution of his duty. You can’t mix high explosive with human beings without tragedy and there is a lot of it in this book, but I heartily commend to you this very human story. It forms a great tribute to some very brave people who serve us all with distinction having been sent out under equipped on a spurious errand.
An amazing story and one being still being played out as you read these lines and whilst there has been a little criticism of the general tone and content, reading between the lines must get you fairly close to the wider truth.
These photographs come from the public domain, they show the results of an attack against an American armored vehicle and give an impression of the destructive power involved within the devices. The hidden IED weighed 500lbs.
Note the unusual construction of the bottom of the hardened Pathfinder APC. Note the bottom looks like the hull of a ship. The blast picked up the truck and turned it around! The driver got some broken ribs (see the photo of the steering wheel), but that’s it. Everyone walked away from a 500 lb explosion directly beneath their vehicle.
“Yes the soldiers were very fortunate to survive that with relatively minor injuries. I suppose the danger is that the baddies escalate until they find the size of bomb which does the biz? I’ll leave it to the editor’s discretion whether or not to uses it – interesting all the same. It looks as though the Iranian Revolutionary Guard supplies the detonators for these IEDs – you can understand why the Americans are so upset with them, but they shouldn’t really have lifted the lid of Pandora’s Box in the first place – should they? The Russians and Chinese are supplying weaponry to the Iranians – but then we did the same when the Russians were in Afghanistan, and we also supported Saddam against the Iranians – it’s a murky old world out there.”