About the size of four Indiana counties, Khost Province sits on the eastern Afghanistan border with the Taliban-controlled tribal regions of Pakistan. Populated by the Pashtun warrior tribe, Khost has been a hotbed of fundamentalist Islamic armed resistance since the start of the 1980s Soviet war. Today, elements of the society continue their insurgency against the Afghan national government and its American allies, complicating the ADT mission.
“The information that has been presented to us that far and away Khost Province is the most kinetic of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan,” said ADT Commander Col. Brian Copes. “Kinetic simply meaning shooting and explosions and IEDs and indirect fire-artillery, mortar and rocket fire.”
In late May, insurgents launched attacks on the provincial capital, Khost City, and the nearby Forward Operating Base Salerno, where the ADT is posted. Suicide attackers invaded a downtown Khost City government building to kill the governor meeting with American officers. Twenty people died in the attack. A suicide bomber exploded a truck just outside the FOB Salerno gate, killing nine Afghans. An errant Taliban rocket landed on a mosque near the base, killing three worshipers. On FOB Salerno, three ADT soldiers narrowly escaped injury when an insurgent mortar round exploded 50 meters away.
In spite of increasing risk, the ADT persists with their development work- though with precautions. To protect the soldiers, the team travels in gargantuan armored vehicles called MRAPs, designed to withstand IED blasts and ambushes. On May 5th of this year, one of the ADT’s MRAPs was got an unwelcome test.
“We were basically just moving at a crawl. We told everybody else in the convoy, kind of just stay back, let us clear the path,” said Sgt. Maj. Robert Lee Goodin, describing one patrol. “As we creep forward, we would let them know anything and everything. It was just…You’re on pins and needles just going down there. So just as we moved forward, the whole front of the truck lifted. It’s a large, muffled sound inside the MRAP…. I could see, just feel, the whole front end of the truck just lift up off the ground. Debris was flying up…. The first thing I was thinking, ‘Were we all right?’”
Goodin says it was a long couple minutes until the rest of the convoy heard from the soldiers in the lead MRAP. “Everyone’s OK,” the radio finally squawked.
But Sergeant Shawn Tharp says another danger still lurked.
“I seen the trip wire for the secondary IED at the same time as Doc Jacks seen it. Then we both called it out, and as soon as we called it out, Doc Jacks grabbed the gunner, Kunert, tried stopping him, he was heading to step on it.”
But for the soldiers who took the brunt of the blast, there were some after-effects.
“Ringing in the ears for three, four days, bad headache for about a week,” Tharp said. “That’s about it. That’s not bad at all, compared to what it could have been. If we’d been in a Humvee, it’d probably been done.”
But in the end, the though the blast totals the $1.5 million dollar MRAP, its heavy armor protects the soldiers. In spite of the dangers, the Indiana National Guard ADT continues its agricultural mission in Afghanistan. That story begins next week.