Home-made explosives wreak havoc on forces

LIEUTENANT Colonel Dan Bradbury, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, has seen at first hand the chaos the Improvised Explosive Devices have wreaked on soldiers out serving in Afghanistan.

The devices are deadly weapons for the insurgents, not just for the physical damage from the explosions, but also the debilitating mental effect on soldiers every time they go out on patrol.

In Helmand province, soldiers are constantly on the look out for any signs of ground disturbance that may indicate an IED has been laid.

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But as soon as you head out on patrol across the rock-strewn fields and roads, where Afghan children often arrange piles of stones in strange shapes in everyday games, it is a wonder there are not even more deaths.

The psychological impact of knowing that at any time you could trigger one of the devices, is profound.

“The IED is an extremely cunning enemy,” Lt Col Bradbury told the Yorkshire Post from Task Force Helmand’s military headquarters in Lashkar Gah.

“Two to three years ago, the threat was very much from shooting, but the insurgents soon realised they couldn’t win a conventional fight.

“They started with military grade explosives, now it is home-made explosives, just like the IRA did.

“It is a scary thing to go out of the front gate, and every time it requires a considerable well of courage.”

Lt Col Bradbury’s battalion are soon to complete a six-month tour of Helmand Province, and have lost Private Matthew Thornton, of Barnsley, and Private John King, 19, of Darlington, both killed in IED blasts.

“The last five to six months have been quite difficult, but we have come a long way,” he said.

“The losses we have suffered have hit home hard.

“But it is the way the soldiers deal with these losses that makes me proud.

“This has been our bloodiest tour for 10 years but it has also been our first tour in Afghanistan.

“It has been quite hard on two fronts.

“Firstly there is the obvious danger of IEDs and a risk of shooting, but we are trained for and can deal with this.

“The other bit that just nags with you all the time is the primitive conditions. There are soldiers who have spent six months living outside in the Afghan winter.

“It is the constant debilitating effect of never really being comfortable but you make the best of it.

“There is a lot of public support out there, but the further forward you go, the more cut off you become from instant communication. When we get back to Yorkshire we are exercising our right to parade through the towns and cities of the region and the soldiers will be surprised at the turn out.

“For a lot of soldiers, coming to a place like Afghanistan is something they want to do. It is the ultimate test of their skills.”