Afghan troops south of Kabul last week discovered one of the most elaborate and frightening improvised explosive device (IED) traps that American troops have ever heard of or come across.
On the morning of Oct. 18, an Afghan National Army patrol received a tip that a body bag with human remains was lying near a graveyard in Pul-e Alam, the capital of Logar Province.
The Afghans went to investigate and found a blood-covered body bag with what looked like a pair of pants sticking out of it.
According to U.S. troops, as the Afghan forces were investigating the scene, they heard a cell phone ring. It turned out to be a detonator for an bomb placed in a tree near the bag.
But it was a dud and didn’t explode –- otherwise it could have had deadly results.
The Afghan army immediately backed away from the scene and then re-approached with vehicles armed with radio jamming equipment. This prevented any further radio-controlled bombs from being detonated.
They proceeded to investigate the site, and found that the body bag contained two 18-liter jugs filled with explosive material connected to a cell phone detonator. They found several other similar devices buried around the scene.
The Afghan troops successfully cleared the site.
This scene highlights how insurgents continue to adapt and experiment with new tactics and approaches. The roadside bombs come in all shapes and sizes, and have grown more sophisticated and more lethal.
There are IEDs set off by trip wires, pressure plates (similar to the way landmines work), timers, and, as in this case, by cell phones.
Insurgents hide them in culverts, bury them in roads, and sometimes place them in walls or inside dead animals. In some cases, they are even put inside dead people.
U.S. forces point out that Afghans are getting better and better at detecting and disarming these bombs. Several troops said that Afghans are actually better at detecting them than Americans. Despite the prevalence of these bombs, a decreasing percentage detonate and cause damage.
Still, U.S. troops say that Afghan forces tend to have predictable patterns when they patrol, and insurgents are placing the bombs where Afghan soldiers regularly dismount their vehicles to patrol. This is one of the habits U.S. troops are trying to get Afghan forces to break.
The U.N. says that IEDs have killed more than 340 civilians this year, and injured at least 600.
(NPR’s Sean Carberry, who is based in Kabul, recently traveled with U.S. forces in Logar Province. NPR’s Aimal Yaqubi also contributed to this report.)