Canadians deal with increased roadside bombs, rocket attacks in Afghanistan (Afghanistan)
GHUNDY GHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - With a loud thud, a roadside bomb erupts beneath a Coyote armoured vehicle in clear sight of Canadian troops dug in on a dusty, sunbaked hill overlooking green poppy fields.
"I-E-D!" soldiers shout as they point toward a cloud of greasy blackish-grey smoke rising from the improvised explosive device just over a kilometre away.
Members of the battle group's reconnaissance squadron fall silent until radios crackle with word that their comrades are safe.
The bomb blew one of the Coyote's eight wheels off.
"Starting about a week ago we have been finding IEDs on all the roads around here pretty much every single day," said Maj. Steve Graham of the Royal Canadian Dragoons.
"The fact there has been a spike of IEDs tells me that the places we are going and things we have been doing are starting to hit closer to the areas the Taliban have been working in."
Roadside bombs, random rocket attacks and suicide bombers are the main dangers Canadian troops face so far this year in their efforts to bring security to Kandahar province.
The pitched battles in the Panjwaii area last summer, where Canadian and Afghan forces along with NATO air power killed hundreds of Taliban, have forced the insurgency underground.
Graham, whose force is lodged deep in a dangerous part of Zhari district, said their goal is to help the Afghan army and police stabilize the area.
The squadron conducts presence patrols and meets with village elders in the lush agricultural zone between the main highway and the Arghandab river - the main watercourse in the parched province.
The idea is that the show of force and the friendly diplomacy will help win the people over into supporting the Afghan government.
But the sprawl of mud-brick buildings, poppy fields and grape vineyards is an insurgent infiltration route toward Kandahar city and was once part of the Taliban's power base.
Fighting such a faceless enemy is frustrating for the soldiers of the Gagetown, N.B.-based Royal Canadian Regiment battle group.
"They are not going to stand up and fight," said Graham, who is from Winnipeg.
"We have been here for a month and not once has anyone stopped to point a rifle at us. They are working in very small numbers. The only way they are going to have any effect against us is by hiding mines in the roads or lobbing rockets at us from three kilometres away."
The challenges faced by the soldiers at Graham's outpost perched on the edge of the Red Desert are shared by all Canadian forces in the Kandahar region.
Military maps are pockmarked with ugly black dots topped with red flames - each symbol marking the location of a roadside bomb detonation.
Last week, one Canadian soldier was wounded when a bomb-detection dog, tired at the end of a long day, actually sat down on a device, setting it off.
In the last few days the battle group has come across four IEDS.
The troops, who drive around in armoured Coyotes, LAV-3s and RG-31s, are well-shielded from roadside bomb blasts, but the danger is still there.
The soldiers appear to take the threat in stride.
Some, such as Capt. Mark Sheppard of India company, even joke about close calls.
"We were driving flank security on this road and our LAV drove over a double-stack of Chinese anti-tank mines," said Sheppard during a break in a patrol near Sangsar, a Taliban hot spot in Zhari district.
"They use two saw blades separated by inner-tubes. When the weight of the LAV comes on they touch the circuit and you go boom. But it didn't go off - so it's all good."
Some of the troops are more fatalistic.
"There is nothing you can do about it," said one private from Charlie company at a checkpoint as Afghan National Army troops swept a village for Taliban.
"You just hope that it isn't you."
Rockets have also been fired at the battle group's task force in Maywand district and at Canadian forces in Ma'h Sum Ghar. There were no injuries.
No one takes the threat for granted.
Troops in vehicles radio each other with reports of farmers digging too close to roads.
Villagers, fed up with losing their own people to the indiscriminate weapons, sometimes tell the Canadians about roadside bombs.
Like the heat and ever-present dust, IEDs are another ugly fact of life in Afghanistan.
"To be blunt, if every time a vehicle hit an IED, if every time a soldier died there was talk about us pulling out of here, it would just encourage the Taliban to keep doing it more," Graham said.
"The fact is we have to show them that it doesn't matter what they do to us, we are here until the job is done."
Von: 25.03.2007 by John Cotter, www.570news.com