Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 7, 2007 - Nearly 40 Afghan soldiers and police officers have completed the first of five training phases to learn of to safely handle unexploded ordnance. In the first months of training, they have learned basic de-mining procedures, unexploded ordnance recognition, basic first aid and minefield casualty evacuation. In 18 more weeks, these members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police will become explosive ordnance disposal technicians.
Afghanistan is one of the world's most heavily mined countries. Efforts to remove mines have been ongoing for two decades, but it could take decades more to remove the millions of mines still believed to be buried throughout the country. This is one reason the Afghan national security forces are involved.
The explosive ordnance disposal school, which is the Afghan army's first branch training outside the capital of Kabul, is located at Camp Shaheen. The school consists of two classrooms -- with plans to build four more -- and a training field for mine clearing.
Just outside the wire is a 72-square-kilometer demolition range, where more than 20 Afghan and international instructors from Ronco Consulting Corporation, based out of Washington, D.C., plan to spend much of the next four training phases with the students.
Chief instructor Dave Bruce and his team of 14 instructors from Ronco patterned this course after a successful program they used in Zubair, Iraq, in 2004. For three years, they trained Iraqis on a curriculum based on particular threats to their country.
"We have been successful with our training in Iraq," Bruce said. "And we are confident that Afghanistan will be no different."
The training team already had arrived at the site here in late October before putting the final touches on the course curriculum. Slight modifications were necessary to suit specific threats in Afghanistan. On Nov. 10, they welcomed the first Afghan soldiers and police officers to the school and started training the first Afghan students to become EOD technicians.
The training can't come too soon. One survey found almost one Afghan in seven is affected by mines and unexploded ordnance. In 2005, the International Committee of the Red Cross recorded 898 casualties from mines and other unexploded ordnance. The victims usually were working or playing near ordnance in unmarked areas. There are an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 landmine survivors in Afghanistan.
One of the students, Afghan National Police Sgt. Mohammed Sedig, formerly a member of the Afghan National Civil Order Police in Kabul, knows these dangers firsthand.
"I must study for a test now, but I am excited to know that I will be made into an EOD police officers," Sedig said. "Since my friends were killed playing with ordnance last year, I decided it was good for me to learn about (improvised explosive devices) and other things like that so that I know how to be safe."
This 22-week course is designed to be both challenging and rewarding work for the students, while making them operate more safely around unexploded ordnance, Bruce said. "It gives them the opportunity as soldiers and police officers to make a difference in the country by cleaning up the remnants of war and making it safer for everyone," he said.
Originally, Afghan and coalition leaders discussed the possibility of having three mobile teams set up around the country to train the prospective EOD element, but they decided to locate the course in one place. "Having just one training facility is better for our overall objective," Bruce said. "If we were to have three teams roving around the country, it would be more difficult to coordinate the training."
(Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian P. Seymour is assigned to Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan.)