Lost in the Fog of War

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Our mission today is to clear a two- to three-mile route for another unit that has some business up the road. For this, we have an array of IED-hunting vehicles: Three RG-31s, built to survive anti-tank mines and outfitted to be our gun trucks; two Husky mine sweepers; and a Buffalo, a beast of a vehicle that can reach out and examine an IED with its long claw arm.

As we roll out, this mission staggers me with boredom. Traveling the same desert roads again and again is mind-numbing. But I am observant and I am cautious. I know that complacency can easily mean death.

A dirt road in a desolate area of Iraq.
Photo: Adam Lynch/Flickr/cc-by-sa-2.0

Iraq's streets and roads give an eerie feeling sometimes, like something's wrong with them. It's always a bad sign when there's no one on the streets of a town or village. But here, in the desolate areas, there are no clues. Only your gut telling you something's not right.

The name of the road we're moving on today isn't as colorful as the others in the Hard Rock area. This one's simply called "Route No Name."

The road is quiet. Some would say too quiet. I can't say why. Iraq's streets and roads give an eerie feeling sometimes, like something's wrong with them. It's always a bad sign when there's no one on the streets of a town or village. But here, in the desolate areas, there are no clues. Only your gut telling you something's not right.

My driver asks the other sergeant if he notices the car that just sped away from the canal bridge ahead. The comment is not intended for me, but I am already following the vehicle with the gyro. I yell at the driver to stop well before the bridge, about 50 yards should do.

I use the gyro to scope out every inch of the bridge. Aside from a stick on the right side that could very well be a disguised pressure plate, the bridge seems typical.

I focus on that stick a lot. I see no wires, no evidence of foul play. It still doesn’t feel right.

An IED can be disguised in any possible way. The only limit is the bomb maker's imagination. Case in point, a stick's core can be hollowed out to hold two small metal strips that are wired to an IED. A vehicle that rolls over the stick would cause the strips within to make contact, completing the circuit and detonating the bomb.

I look hard. I have never seen a stick like that before. It isn't a log, and it isn't a twig. I could have imagined either of those falling off of a bongo truck. But not this stick. It's too typical. The closest trees are about 150 yards away, near a small house to the left. That's too far away for this stick to make sense.

About 200 yards down the road on the other side of the bridge an Iraqi policeman sits in a plastic chair, smoking and watching us. The other sergeant seems to think no one would put an IED that close to a checkpoint. I feel differently.

A call comes in over the mic, asking if I would like the Buffalo's claw to reach around and dig under the bridge for wires.