Canadian soldiers face down bombs, suicide attacks in Afghanistan (Afghanistan)
KANDAHAR AIR BASE: The soldiers saw a man in a vehicle move his hand towards something that looked like a switch. But as the Canadians prepared to open fire, he exploded his car bomb, one soldier remembers. "It was in the middle of Kandahar," capital of the province with the same name, said the soldier with the 12th Canadian Armoured Regiment.
"We were about 11 or 12 vehicles. It was early in the morning and there were a lot of people in the city. There was a vehicle on the side of the road and when we passed it started to move forward," he said in an interview.
"It went between the first vehicle and another, a Romanian one, and then, when the two light armoured vehicles saw he had a switch, they started to do this," the soldiers says, gesturing as though to point a gun.
And then, the attacker detonated his explosives.
The soldiers escaped but seven Afghan civilians were wounded, two of them infants.
That was on March 30. A month earlier, while standing next to another armoured vehicle, Paris saw another suicide attacker blow himself up in a car as a military convoy passed. He was about 30 metres from the explosion.
"I really felt the force of the blast and also the pieces it threw up. It was really shocking because there was nothing that we could do. We could not defend ourselves."
Suicide attacks and homemade bombs, called improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in military jargon, have become the main threat for soldiers with the US-led coalition and Nato force based in Afghanistan.
On Friday two Italian soldiers were killed and four wounded in an IED explosion on the outskirts of Kabul. At the end of April, four Canadians were killed in a powerful attack involving four anti-tank mines and howitzers fired from a distance.
That took to 15 the number of Canadian soldiers who have lost their lives in Afghanistan since the force arrived in 2001 to join the hunt for militants allied with the Taliban government removed from power in November that year.
The four Canadians killed were part of a convoy that had just left a forward operating base in Gumbad, in the Shawa Li Kot district, to return to their main base in Kandahar.
Paris and his comrades, Corporal Francis Pelchat and Corporal Frederic Damour, have done the journey many times. After some kilometres, the good tarred road becomes a track - often narrow, potholed and lined by steep banks, making it vulnerable to attack.
On Friday the fine Afghan dust enveloped a convoy of armoured vehicles, a 10-tonne truck and a bullet-proof 4x4 Mercedes trying to move as fast as it can to avoid any attacks on the nearly three-hour journey to Gumbad.
"If you are lucky, you'll see the tripwires on the road. But so far, it has never happened," Damour said.
"The most dangerous are the suicide vehicles because they can't be seen in advance, while it is a bit easier to see the IEDs. By knowing the terrain, when passing a certain place we can see the spots where an IED could be hidden," he said.
Technology can also help and specialised teams are from time to time sent ahead to clear the way.
Despite the danger, the 20 men in Friday's convoy seemed to be focused but relatively relaxed.
"You have to understand that it is so unpredictable and that we are here to do a job, so we can't let ourselves think, `Is there going to be another one?`," said Paris. His two colleagues say the same: "It is just luck."
But not everyone is so fatalistic. "I won't forget it so soon. It's always in the back of my mind," says a driver who saw the March suicide attack and is at the wheel of his 23rd convoy in dangerous southern Afghanistan. ' AFP
Von: 8.5.2006 Gulf Times