The best way to detect bombs is for the locals to warn you about them. The second best way is for every combat troop to be keenly aware of Ground Sign and the environment. The third best way is dogs, and then the billions of dollars in gadgets. If the job is to search bags at an airport, or cars at the Mexican border, a dog can be a wunderhund. But in a hot Afghan desert, or when other dogs are going nuts in Iraq and distracting him, Joe the Dog is baggage.
In Kandahar last year, we saw what we thought might be a bomb, and it happened to be right next to me. The dog came up, stood on it, smelled it, and indicated that it was nothing. The dog also could not climb walls, so he had to be constantly carried over using a ladder. To be clear, bomb dogs do great work in Afghanistan, but they only work within a narrow bandwidth. Dogs are also vulnerable to PTSD. When there is drama, dogs immediately look to their handler for reassurance, but that can only go so far.
As for the dog that missed the bomb in Sangin, the gear missed it, too. The well-trained EOD man detected it. British Soldiers said that the dog and his handler walked right over the bomb. When I came up, the handler looked depressed.
In about early 2010, I was walking with Command Sergeant Major Robb Prosser at the Kandahar Airfield boardwalk. There was a Soldier with fresh scars on his face and a very bad look. CSM Prosser stopped what he was doing and walked over and asked the Soldier if he was okay, and what happened. His dog missed a bomb. As I recall, his dog was killed.
One wonders how many dogs and handlers have been killed by bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The following link describes 22 incidences of dogs, handlers, or both, being killed: http://www.jbmf.us/mem-wot.asp No mention is made of the dog we heard described at the boardwalk, nor does the list include British, Canadian, Aussie, and other allies. They all have taken dog-team hits. These losses are not always due to a canine missing an explosive, but some are. It is safe to guess that losses of dogs and handlers, including those of our allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, would be in the numerous dozens.
Photograph of dog diving for the shade.
The only gear that everyone has all the time is their eyes and their mental software. Some guys are naturally good at spotting IEDs, but there is little doubt that between our campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, significant ambushes and IEDs could have been noticed, and casualties avoided, and more enemy killed and captured, with simple tracking and better GSA.
That we have been at war for 11 years, spending enough money on counter-IED measures to put a man on the moon, and have failed to institute widespread tracking training, is a great training failure.
It is an honor to be invited to write about Norwegian forces, who obviously are taking this skill seriously. It is also an opportunity to improve my own GSA before I shift to covering U.S./Mexico issues.
Before saying anything about the Norwegian side, I must get to Norway to receive ground rules from the Norwegian command. After the Norwegian military lays down their ground rules, I will begin writing about the course.
Norway and this trip will be expensive. Reader support is requested, appreciated, and needed.
Please help fund this writing: it is not easy, and it is not cheap.
For more on tracking, and for a video of an IED strike that might have been avoided with GSA, please see “Watch Your Step.”