Divers vital to war on improvised explosive devices
4 December 2013
Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers employed to counter the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have made the war-torn environment of Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province safer for diggers and local Afghan civilians.
Clearance divers from the Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving (MCD) Group, and wider capability, including Navy’s clearance diving teams, were integral to the joint ADF contribution to the Coalition’s fight against IEDs.
Clearance divers from Australian Clearance Diving Team – One (AUSCDT-1) were attached to the Army’s 20th Explosive Ordnance Demolition Squadron for deployment into theatre.
Their comprehensive explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training and experience put them in the frontline of the war on IEDs. The insurgents’ indiscriminate use of IEDs continues to cause the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties.
More than 50 Navy clearance divers have served in the Middle East Area of Operations, many of them in Afghanistan, in counter improvised explosive device (CIED) positions.
The “bubblies” also stepped up for Navy to fill rotational ADF billets as CIED Chief Exploitation Officers posted to Headquarters International Security Assistance Force, while senior and junior sailor clearance divers performed operational IED disposal deployments to Uruzgan province.
The Commander Australian Mine Warfare, Clearance Diving, Hydrographic, Meteorological and Patrol Force, Captain Robert Plath, RAN, praised the divers for their hard work and meaningful contribution to CIED operations in Uruzgan Province.
“The Navy Clearance Diver category is highly trained and experienced in EOD operations both above and below the water line,” Captain Plath said.
“Their valuable skills make them highly suited to the critical CIED role – even in a land-locked country.
“The battle against the IEDs was crucial to bringing economic sustainability for the people of Afghanistan.”
Among the many clearance divers who have served in the CIED role are Lieutenant Commanders (LCDRs) Russ Crawford and David Ince, Commander Doug Griffiths, Lieutenant Sam Coleman, Chief Petty Officer Clearance Diver Philip Shirley, Petty Officer CD Troy Eather and Chief Petty Officer Shaun Elliott.
The excellent work of LCDR Crawford was acknowledged with an International Security Assistance Force Commendation, which recognised his important contribution to countering the IED menace in Afghanistan.
“The fact that Navy has been able to fill all its commitments and more, including the rotations of other Services, is testament to this and the high regard given to the divers’ subject matter expertise in this area,” LCDR Crawford said.
“All the operators would agree that their leadership experience and previous exposure in the CIED and IED disposal environments enabled them to make a significant contribution to the CIED fight.”
Deputy MCD Capability Manager Lieutenant Commander Ince said the Headquarters International Security Assistance Force CIED job entailed the coordination of all CIED exploitation teams across Afghanistan, the analysis of trends and enemy tactics and direct support to targeting the insurgency IED network.
“The CIED job also involved the training and mentoring of Afghan National Security Force EOD and IED disposal teams on the ground in and around Kabul,” he said.
“The main responsibility of the job was to not just count the IEDs, but actually counter them by providing useful and timely exploitation intelligence to the action arms.
“We called it 'getting left of boom',” he said.
Clearance divers also helped local police and soldiers in Uruzgan province dispose of IEDs through the Explosive Hazard Reduction Course that was conducted in Tarin Kot.
Chief Petty Officer Clearance Diver Shaun Elliott said the course was a highly successful education program designed to give indigenous forces the capability to clear IEDs and unexploded ordnance independently.
“The Afghan National Police spend a lot of time at checkpoints, where it’s very common to find or have IEDs and suspicious items handed in to them,” he said.
“We gave them the capability to deal with such hazards on site rather than wait for Coalition forces or Afghan National Army EODs to arrive and deal with the threat.
“Train the trainer was our end game.
“We have got them to a point where they are successfully training their own personnel, and operating independently around the province.”
The explosive reduction course was run at the purpose-built counter IED compound to emulate a practical and realistic training environment.
“We educated them on all types of explosive hazards, respective threat levels, ways to counter different charges and ideal courses of action for each scenario,” Chief Petty Officer Elliott said.
“We did this in an environment similar to that outside the wire.”