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Bomb disposal course 'leaves army unprepared'

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 14 August 2010

Bomb disposal officer Capt Kevin Ivison left his job with post-traumatic stress disorder. In his first TV interview, he warns Channel 4 News's Carl Dinnen crucial elements are lacking in the army's new bomb disposal training regime.

Army bomb disposal officer

At the height of the Iraqi insurgency Captain Kevin Ivison was an ammunition technical officer - a bomb disposal man.

He knows what it takes to walk towards a live bomb, and what it takes out of you when you do it again and again and again.

Kevin went on to do counter-IED work for the Ministry of Defence. He left this week. This is his first television interview.

A roadside bomb in 2006 on route Red One in al-Amarrah, Iraq, kills two British soldiers in a Land Rover. There is a second bomb level with the flag, hanging from the lamppost. There is a hostile crowd. At least one sniper. One of the dead men was his friend.

It is Kevin Ivison's job to defuse the second bomb. His electronic jamming device and bomb disposal robot have both failed. He is on his own.

He told Channel 4 News: "So before I walked towards the bomb I left a message with my second in command to tell my parents I loved them. Because there's very little chance I'll come back from this."

"I knew I was going to die. And as I was within 20 metres and 10 metres I thought the terrorists, one of whom would have a transmitter to explode the bomb, were just being cruel and letting me get close before killing me.

"I thought that it they had even a shred of decency they could get it over quickly."

'I knew I was going to die'
If you list them like the children's shopping game, you can start to understand why the cracks appeared, writes Channel 4 News reporter and presenter Carl Dinnen.

You can start to appreciate the combination of pressures which came to bear on the al-Amarah ATO one February morning.

- Nights of rocket attacks.
- Nights of rocket attacks and a bomb kills two soldiers.
- Nights of rocket attacks and a bomb kills two soldiers and one of them's your friend.
- Nights of rocket attacks and a bomb kills two soldiers and one of them's your friend and there's another bomb.

The list goes on. This was only the beginning of Kevin Ivison's day. It was 28 February 2006. Kevin, who gives his first TV interview to Channel 4 News tonight, was the ammunition technical officer. He was the bomb disposal man for al-Amarah.

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But they did not. Kevin Ivison defused the bomb and was later decorated for his actions. But after months of pressure, the incident was too much. He developed post-traumatic stress disorder.

Today in Afghanistan the threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) is even greater than it was in Iraq. The bomb disposal operators are under immense pressure.

Kevin Ivison told Channel 4 News: "I've heard anecdotally of some bomb disposal teams going out and because the risk is so high throwing up through fear.

"And to do that and to go out the next day and the next day is incredible."

To boost their numbers, the Ministry of Defence has introduced a new fast-track course. Instead of 18 months, it takes 16 weeks. Kevin Ivision says they are not as prepared as they could be.

"The threat in Afghanistan is higher than the one I faced in Iraq and I needed every bit of training that I got.

"And a lot of what they've stripped out is fundamental underpinning knowledge so things about weapons design, how explosives are made, about how blast affects structures and buildings and people.

"That's absolutely crucial if you want to be an effective bomb disposal operator."

He also has concerns about some of the equipment available to them. In particular, he feels the lightweight Dragon Runner robot is too small.

"The light model is very good at what it's supposed to do, but light robots have difficulty removing heavy bombs from the ground.

"So at the moment I would say we probably don't have the right mix of robots in theatre. And the MOD is doing things to rectify that but it hasn't happened yet."

Kevin Ivison will never don his bomb disposal suit again. And he says operators like him can never win the war against IEDs in places like Afghanistan - only the support of the population will ever do that.

Statement by the Ministry of Defence
C-IED Training
Ammunition Technical Officers (ATO) are highly trained experts in their field which covers a broad range of technical issues and disciplines - Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) is one, specific part of this wider role.

The aim of the Defence EOD Operators’ course is not to produce ATOs but to provide EOD-specific training to service personnel maximising our EOD capability across all three Armed Forces.

Only after gaining experience and after further training will some of these students go on to deploy to Afghanistan as EOD operators. There are absolutely no short cuts and service personnel receive the training they require to do the jobs asked of them.

Dragon Runner
Dragon Runner is the best man-portable, remote-controlled bomb disposal robot currently on the market – there is nothing better available. It is one of a number of methods available to our counter-IED teams in Afghanistan along with the Wheelbarrow and Chevette bomb disposal robots and the new Talisman Route Proving and Clearance System.

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