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The army robots fighting Taliban IEDs

By Carl Dinnen, Channel 4 News

Updated on 02 February 2010

For British soldiers in Afghanistan, the main problem is the enemy's IEDs - improvised explosive devices. Carl Dinnen found out how the army trains to deal with them.

A soldier walks with a Dragon Runner IED robot strapped to his backpack.

For British soldiers serving in Afghanistan, expensive hi-tech weapons are not the problem. It is the enemy's cheap improvised explosive devices - or IEDs - that are costing British lives.

Just yesterday, two more soldiers were killed in roadside bombings in Helmand province while on foot patrol.

It has become an unprecedented threat. Makeshift bombs, made up from bits of metal and wood wrapped in plastic.

The IED has become the deadliest of enemies to British troops in Afghanistan. Last summer British forces were dealing with a thousand incidents a month.

Captain Liam FitzGerald-Finch, of 11 EOD Regiment, described a typical device.

He told Channel 4 News: "Fundamentally it's made very simply of household items - there's an old hacksaw blade at the top and some random bits of metal nailed onto the wood below.

"The idea being that pressure's applied - footfall or a vehicle, and the connection is made."

Neither in Northern Ireland nor in Iraq was this type of homemade bomb scattered so indiscriminately as during the Afghanistan conflict.

Each "incident" could involve anything from one to a dozen devices, often linked together to catch out the bomb disposal men.

Warrant Officer Colin Grant demonstrated how he and his team send in a new lightweight "robot" vehicle to check a suspicious device. On his last tour to Afghanistan he dealt with around 60 IEDs.

After the Dragon Runner has investigated, Colin is the man who takes "the long walk".

With a degree of coolness he tells me his mind is just busy and focused on the job as he walks towards a live bomb.

11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment is the army's elite bomb disposal unit. It is made up of the only people trained to deal with high-threat IEDs - the ones rigged to catch out anyone trying to defuse them.

Only a few are chosen to join this group and even then the course for dealing with high-threat IEDs has a 50 per cent failure rate.

All of this means the army cannot increase the number of "operators" in theatre as easily as the Taliban can increase the numbers of IEDs they are planting around Afghanistan.

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