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Reality of War: IED Strike on Foot Patrol

IEDs are not new.  The idea of a buried bomb goes back as far as the sixteenth century (when they were known as fougasse), and such devices were prolific during the American Revolution and the American Civil War.  The language of the modern ‘Improvised Explosive Device’ was born by the IRA during the ‘Troubles’ in the 1970s.  Since then, and particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, the IED has become one of the greatest killers of coalition forces (and civilians).  This is a trend that is only going to become more common and more sophisticated.

Here (as part of our Realities of War channel) we share a pretty harrowing video, reportedly filmed from the helmet cam of a US Marine from 3rd Battalion 5th Marines.  In October 2010 his unit were deployed to Sangin in Helmand Province; at that time one of the most dangerous battlegrounds in Afghanistan.  They had been on the ground for about three months when this incident happened.

He and his team had been tasked to push in and clear an IED factory within the Sangin DC. They had avoided this alley throughout the tour due to the rock line over the front of it (a local marker for an IED, which you can see at the start of the video).  This time, however, they made a conscious decision to use the alley for the purposes of the operation.  They went to significant steps to clear it.  About five minutes before the video, one of their Combat Engineers fired an Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System down it.  The alley had also been swept multiple times with a metal detector to check it was clear.  Confident that they were safe, the patrol starts to move forward to the Compound of Interest.  This is where the video starts.

The marine wearing the helmet camera steps over a pile of rocks, directing the interpreter to tell the ANSF to do the same.  The marine misses the IED.  As the interpreters steps over, however, he triggers the charge.  He is killed instantly.  The marine is blown forward onto his front, where he sustains a serious concussion and bad bruising.  The remainder of the Section / Multiple run forward to provide first aid and to coordinate a response.

Watch the video, and attempt to visualise yourself in one of the roles (either the Marine hit by the IED, or the ‘number 3’ behind the interpreter, or the patrol commander).  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What risk assessment would you have used prior to using this alley as part of the route?  Would you have done this during planning, or once on the ground?  What data would you have sought to access prior to deploying that would have helped ID the risk of routes?
  • The Marines used every tool at their disposal to ‘clear’ the alley prior to using it.  Would you have had anything more or less than them to use?  Is there any other way you might have ID’d the IED?
  • If you were the ‘number 3’ or the patrol commander, what would have been your instant reaction to the strike?  How would you have been trained to respond?  How do you think you would have actually responded?  How would you have got to the casualty in as safe a manner as possible?
  • Think through the First Aid and CASEVAC procedures?  Can you remember them off the top of your head, or would you need an Aide Memoire?  What comms systems would you have used to call for help, and what help might have been available?
  • If this was your operation, how would this incident change the plan?  Would you be continuing on target, or would this drive a catastrophic change to the Scheme of Manoeuvre?  How would the threat change?  How much of this could you have CONPLANNED and briefed in Orders?
  • A difficult question, but how would you have dealt with the aftermath of the Afghan casualty.  What responsibilities would you have to inform the family, and to see to their well-being?  Equally, how would your unit have dealt with the death of a trusted and relied-upon interpreter?
  • The key aim of IEDs is to create fear.  One of the key lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan is the impact such persistent fear can have on morale and resilience.  How might you deal with this, individually and as a group?

We at the Cove feel for everyone in this video, and for all those who risk their lives on operations.  We hope they understand that we seek to use their experience to help prepare others for combat.  Semper Fidelis.

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