HELMAND - The blackened crater on the road from Goreshk to Lashkar Gah is enough to give anyone pause. Some pause to ogle -- the British MP in my armored vehicle was downright excited to be passing a strike site so large -- but others pause to shudder. The pit was big enough to swallow half a Volkswagen (or a whole Tata Nano), and it had claimed the lives of ISAF soldiers less than a week before.
Soon after our convoy passed the pit, we approached the fresh, twisted wreckage of an Afghan National Army truck. It had driven over a bomb just after dawn, and all five occupants had been killed and buried hastily by the roadside. The British and Afghans determined that some explosive charge still remained, so they halted the whole convoy and we waited for arrangements for a controlled explosion.
It's hard to appreciate how devilish these devices are until you watch one blow. I first saw a controlled explosion of an IED ten years ago, when I worked at The Cambodia Daily. An occasional trick among Phnom Penh goons was to rig up one of the country's millions of scattered landmines and put it under a rival's tire, to be driven over when he pulled out of his parking spot. The rival spotted the device, and hours later a bomb squad came and detonated it in situ with spectators gathered a few blocks away. I expected a loud firecracker-boom, followed by a little puff of dust and golf claps from the assembled onlookers. Instead, the boom arrived like a thief, stealing my senses from two hundred meters, rattling my eyes in their sockets, and flinging a huge cloud of dust and sand over me and the rest of the fleeing crowd. It was, quite simply, a concentration of force unlike anything most of us have ever seen, unless we work in demolitions.