The bomb was buried beneath a foot or more of hard-packed earth on the road through Padkhabi-Shana, 50 miles south of Kabul. How long it had been there, only its creators knew for sure. But even with their sophisticated sensory equipment, a team of U.S. engineers passed over the bomb’s location at least once without detecting it.
Sometime on the afternoon of March 19, an insurgent fighter riding a red motorcycle rode up to where the bomb was located and activated it before abandoning his bike and fleeing for safety. He was no doubt in a hurry because a force of U.S., Jordanian and Afghan soldiers from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force had just entered Padkhabi-Shana, and would be passing over the bomb very soon.
That same afternoon, the ISAF convoy rolled past the abandoned bike and over the bomb. What happened next — the twisted metal, the serious injuries — was an uncomfortable reminder of the reality that coalition forces in Afghanistan face on a daily basis nearly a decade after the U.S.-led invasion swiftly toppled the Taliban regime.
Extremists and ISAF troops operating in Afghanistan both possess unique battlefield advantages over the other. “Asymmetric” is how Western analysts describe the conflict. But neither side’s advantage is decisive.
The extremists’ ability to improvise vehicle-demolishing explosive devices allows them to limit ISAF’s movements and therefore its ability to influence Afghanistan’s development. But ISAF’s quick-reacting aircraft prevent the insurgents from capitalizing on the chaos sown by their increasingly powerful bombs.
“Air power is one of the asymmetric advantages we have in Afghanistan,” says Lt. Col. Brad Lyons, commander of the 34th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, deployed to Afghanistan last year.
The result is a stalemate at the lowest level of the Afghanistan conflict.