LAGHMAN, Afghanistan — The American Special Forces officer was having what one colleague says was the worst day of his war tour. And that was before the Soviet-made anti-personnel mine packed with 700 ball bearings exploded at his feet.
A weapon like that can turn a man into “pink mist,” the officer says.
It was late September outside the town of Mehtar Lam, in this hilly province just east of Kabul. The officer from the Germany-based 10th Special Forces Group — let’s call him “Tom” — had been leading his patrol of U.S. commandos and Afghan police trainees on the long walk back to base following a disappointing encounter with Taliban fighters in which half of the trainees failed to fight back.
Tom glimpsed a mound of disturbed earth and, not thinking, approached it.
The mine concealed inside the mound was a dud, its main charge decayed by time and neglect. Only a precursor charge went off, resulting in a “pop” sound that sent the officer into a spasm of action. He gave a hand signal that sent his troops running for cover, in case the malfunctioned mine was just the first salvo in complex ambush. “God, please don’t let me fuck up,” he recalls thinking.