U.S. Military Fights Rising IED Attacks in Afghanistan

PHOTO: Bob Woodruff in Afghanistan

A split-second decision in Afghanistan could be the difference between life and death.

The rock a soldier steps on could be an improvised explosive device, or IED. The car that passes by could be driven by a suicide bomber with a trunkload of explosives.

So, before soldiers step outside the wire, the military ensures that they receive adequate training at Bagram Air Base to identify possible threats.

"We have horns, bells and whistles here. Make your mistakes here, not outside," Sgt. Blackmon told the soldiers during a Task Force Paladin training class.

Task Force Paladin is a program created by the U.S. military two years ago to combat the rising number of IED attacks. It provides training that can be summed up as a crash course on what to expect in Afghanistan.

"Rule of thumb -- don't drop. I lost my flashlight. I want to reach down and grab my flashlight," Blackmon said, picking up his flashlight and setting off an alarm. "I just blew myself up."

With the force in Afghanistan projected to more than double to 68,000 by year-end, and the number of IED attacks expected to increase by 25 to 30 percent this year, it is critical that soldiers have the training they need to protect themselves.

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan has very few paved roads, which makes it easy for insurgents to bury IEDS. Troops are trained to look for certain indicators that may alert them to possible IEDS.

"If you're walking up a path every day and a farmer's using that same pathway as his donkey and now he's not using that path anymore, you've got to get your interpreter down to talk to that guy,'" Blackmon told the soldiers as an example. "[Ask], 'Hey, why aren't you using this path anymore?' 'Well, the Taliban yesterday, they just buried anti-personnel mines up there.'"

Troops are given such scenarios to demonstrate the level of awareness and observation that they should maintain at all times.

IEDs Devastating Effects

The presence of IEDs in Afghanistan is a growing concern. Upon his arrival to Bagram Air Base, ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff learned that 27 IEDs had been discovered by Task Force Paladin on the previous day.

The damage is felt by U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians alike. The impact of such attacks can be seen in military hospitals throughout Afghanistan that are quickly filling up.

"We are getting, on average, four to five bad cases per day," Dr. Marc Dauphin of the Canadian Armed Forces told ABC News.

Most of the victims are Afghan civilians. This year, Afghan civilians make up 60 to 80 percent of IED casualties in Afghanistan. In total, more than 1,000 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured by IEDs this year.

Reducing the Danger

IEDs can be damaging even when they do not maim or kill. The bombs slow down military operations in Afghanistan by making roads too dangerous to deliver weapons and supplies.

To reduce the danger, military trainers teach troops to look for clues: fake rocks, bullet casings, car trunks weighed down by explosives and detonators hidden behind license plates.

Anything that appears to be out of place can be an indicator. Some .50 caliber shells on the ground can be an indicator because shells are worth money and most have been picked up by locals and taken to market to be bartered or sold.

Something as simple as money or a wallet could appear to be dropped but was actually planted.

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