CHARKUSA, Kandahar Province Fazel Rahman runs around the dirt courtyard of a mud house with his sisters and brothers and cousins. He laughs. He smiles. His big brown eyes don’t give a hint of what’s going on in the 10-year-old’s life. But his right arm does.
Withered and scarred, with skin that in some places looks like the outside of a marshmallow stuck in a flame, Rahman’s arm was badly injured about three months ago when he was playing with something he found in the dirt near his home. It was an improvised explosive device, made from a mortar shell. The blast sent searing hot pieces of metal into his arm. The heat of the explosion singed his skin. “I feel a little good, but I am in pain,” he says, cradling the limp limb, which is wrapped in a dirty makeshift bandage. Rahman has plenty of company. Each year, thousands of Afghan civilians are killed or injured by IEDs, which have also caused about half the deaths of NATO coalition troops here so far this year, according to iCasualities.org. Countering IEDs is a big part of the efforts of the Florida-based 7th Special Forces Group team and its program to help Afghans help themselves. The subject comes up in shuras, or meetings, with Afghan Local Police in Kandahar province. The Captain, a Special Forces veteran responsible for two districts in Kandahar, asks several questions. Have you come across any? If so, what kind? Do you know where they are being made? Do you have any members who might be interested in joining a new counter-IED program? “You can’t beat the human intelligence that the Afghan Local Police provide,” says the Captain, whose identity – like those of other commandos in the field – is kept secret by the military. The goal is to make the Afghan Local Police advance scouts in finding IEDs and those who make them. Success would bring a tremendous benefit to Afghan civilians, police and military as well as those of foreign nations. Just more than a week ago, four U.S. soldiers were killed by an IED in the province. Last year, 132 were killed by IEDs, according to iCasuality.org, and more than 1,000 have died since the war began 12 years ago. At least seven troops from the Tampa area have been killed by IEDs in the past three years. IEDs are such a big concern that before missions outside the wire, the team is reminded of what to do in case their vehicle is hit by one. IEDs are the reason the vehicles weigh more than 50,000 pounds each. “We’ve really become very fond of this village and the children,” says the Captain, after a meeting in Charkusa with Haji Rahmatullah, who commands the area’s Afghan Local Police checkpoint. As the meeting breaks up, young Fazel Rahman comes running out of the courtyard, the right sleeve of his green shirt cut off at the shoulder. One of the team members, who has been monitoring the boy’s health, unties the top of the boy’s bandage to get a closer look. At first Rahman looks nervously at the soldier’s hands. Then he looks up at the soldier, a helplessness showing in eyes. The soldier does not like the way the arm looks. “That arm will be useless to him,” says the soldier, grimly. “It would not be surprising if it is amputated.”