Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Marines from an explosive ordnance disposal team detonate a homemade explosive device, which was discovered near a compound outside of their base.
by Tom Bowman
The Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment — known as "America's Battalion" — have been fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province since July.
They have set up numerous outposts along the dusty roads and cornfields. And now they are moving farther south, looking to extend their area of operation and avoid the deadliest of threats just outside the wire: roadside bombs.
On a recent morning, a platoon of Marines from Fox Company leaves the remote patrol base, a small patch of sandbags, camouflage tents and gravel. Within minutes they're cutting through a cornfield, walking in single file.
It could be any cornfield in Iowa, except for the Taliban radio chatter the Marines are picking up on their radio. The Marines intercept a radio transmission from the Taliban that says the militants are "ready for the guests."
"Guests" is Taliban code for the Marines. On this patrol, the Marines are searching for roadside bombs, commonly known as IEDs.
"We're lucky if we find them. Better than when they find us, I guess," says Lance Cpl. Dan Leary, from Boston.
Leary will be going back to the United States in just a few weeks, and he's worried his luck will run out.
'They're Always Watching Us'
"We had like one week where we found like 21, 22 of them. They were everywhere. We went back two days later. They were everywhere again. They were putting them — like everywhere they put them were places that we had stopped and taken cover," Leary says. "They're watching. They're always watching us."
The Taliban plant bombs everywhere — along dirt paths, in the fields and especially along the main roads. The insurgents are brazen, placing the explosives in the middle of the day.
They have either intimidated the local population, or they have support among them.
The Marines walk on patrol for about two hours, cutting through cornfields, hopping over irrigation canals and trudging along dirt paths.
At the front of the patrol, a Marine sweeps the ground with a hand-held minesweeper, a flat green, angular version of what people use on a beach to find coins.
Before long, he finds a bomb at a dirt-road intersection just outside a compound of mud houses. It's a perfect example of why they call these devices improvised. It is a 5-gallon yellow jug stuffed with a mix of fertilizer, diesel fuel and metal.
The Marines set some plastic explosives to detonate the IED. They call out a 10-second warning, and the Marines take cover in a ditch beside the dirt road. The explosion propels a wave of dirt over the squad.
The Marines talk about the unsettling feeling of walking along the trails and fields, slopping through canals, just waiting for an explosion.
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