EOD Operations: Clearing Route X

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 7 months ago

G4 television recently had a documentary on Army EOD platoon 342 clearing what they termed “Route X.”  A simple Google search on clearing route X will send the reader to various online discussion forums, videos and other sources on this mission, and so it isn’t my point to recapitulate those sources here.

Neither is it my goal to disparage the hard work and bravery shown by this EOD team.  Each man is serving our country as his mission rules dictate, and as the specific military branch allows.  A hearty congratulations goes out to each member of the team who participated in the mission and returned to the FOB safely.

But there my accolades end.  This is a sad, sad tale that depicts exactly why we have lost Afghanistan.  Clearing the route (the portion of it that actually got cleared) took days, and they team went at the rate of hundreds of yards per day.  Terrain they cleared was later found to have been revisited by bomb emplacers, and so “safe” checkpoints weren’t really safe.

By the time foot patrols got to the insurgents controlling the IEDs, they were gone.  The domiciles from which they operated, vacant at the time, were simply left in place.  After the partial clearing operations, it likely took only a matter of hours for the Taliban to have completely littered the route with IEDs again.

This frustration, I admit, is perhaps attributable to the difference in the way the military branches do business.  This frustration is also captured here.

I just found this show and have only seen 3 episodes. just watched the road of blood / route X episode. I gotta say as a former Marine who has seen my share of bullets, bandaids and bad guys there has to be a better way to clear route X. Here is my observations / comments from the comfort of my reclining couch. 1) the Army tried to clear the route two times before and failed. In my opinion each time the Army pulled out it emboldened the Talibafoons. 2) the military has come a long way in technology since i was in from 87-93 but sometimes you just got to get boots on the ground and take the fight to the enemy. As i was watching the Army and Navy try to clear route X at a snails pace i remembered a route clearing device i saw used in Desert Storm. I dont know it name but it was a bunch of bangolores attached to a rocket. The rocket was shot out, the string of bangolores was detonated and voila insta-path. I get polictical correctness and trying to play nice with the locals but if route X is such a hard nut to crack then order up 20 of these bangolore snakes and clear the route one rocket at a time and march right into the taliban summer resort city at the end of the road. I am sure the goat herder who uses the road to tend his opium poppy fields will be upset we blew his road to sh&%, but oh well. 3) there is no mention of air support and/or predators providing eye in the sky support. I understand the show is to spotlight the EOD unit but i would get a warm, fuzzy feeling if i knew they had some air support. 4) at the beginning of the mission the locals seem to get the message to clear out and take cover, presumably they got the signal from the taliban. This gives the taliban the initiative to dictate when the locals should clear out. Instead when we arrive we should have our Afghan translator get on a loud speaker and tell the locals to clear out. Mentally this puts us in control and shows we dictate the next course of action. In wrapping this up i understand we dont get the full story due to TV show editing, I dont know the rules of engagement from my living room, and EOD and the Army may not want to show all there trade secrets but there has got to be a better way to clear that road and send a message that we will come knocking at the front door of the talibafoons summer resort city.

Semper Fi

The frustration is answered as well.

You are refering to APOBS.The Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System (APOBS) is an explosive line charge system that allows safe breaching through complex antipersonnel obstacles, particularly fields of land mines.

They actually used this system in one episode. However, they are apparently only used when “absolutely necessary”. You would think cost would not be a prohibitive factor in such a dangerous mission. My guess is that Air is not being used because of the proximity to civilian targets. We wouldn’t want to kill an innocent in a man-dress, now would we?

There was a stark difference in how the Marines went into Sangin with its IEDs and how 342 took on Route X.  In Sangin, heavy foot patrols were involved, the people were engaged, it was essentially non-stop route clearance, there was no hesitation to use heavy ordnance or APOBS, and after clearing the route(s), the adjacent domiciles were bulldozed to the ground to prevent close quarters emplacement of IEDs.

I would also point out that when the 2/6 Marines took on Fallujah in 2007, even more heavy tactics were used.  In order to clear Route X, more troops should have been used, the route AO should have been cordoned in order to prevent the escape of insurgents, Army snipers should have been emplaced, doors should have been kicked in and homes searched, domiciles bulldozed if found to be involved in IED making or other insurgent activity, and biometric information should have been taken of all MaMs.  All of this should have been combined with census operations of the AO.

As it was, in the end, in spite of the hard work and bravery, nothing was accomplished.  But we followed the stipulations of FM 3-24 and conducted population-centric COIN.  That’s what’s really important.

  • TS Alfabet

    This is precisely what I find so damnably frustrating with U.S. involvement in Afghanistan: we just don’t want to win.

    We don’t do the things necessary to beat the enemy, but seemingly go through the motions like this route clearance that every person on that brave team has to know is completely wasted effort when the T-ban re-seed the roads hours after its clearance.

    We are going to find ourselves in a crap load of hurt no matter who gets elected in November and it will be a steep price tag.

  • Will

    I believe you’re referring to Operation Outlaw Wrath when you said Sangin. I was a squad leader and dismounted sweeper with the Marine route clearance platoon working route 611 during that operation and the following five months.

    The APOBs essentially consist of grenades on a length of det cord and generally don’t expose/destroy all of the ieds. It can be helpful but in no way does it completely proof the lane. Line charges, the much bigger brother with 1750 pounds of C4, were in abundance during outlaw wrath. I don’t remember the exact number but it was four days in line charges and bulldozing houses with infantry units on the flanks. It was a giant v sweep and worked beautifully. We definitely let the locals know we meant business and afterwards the civil affairs teams paid the locals a cash settlement for their mud huts. Big surprise, a couple of weeks later the Tban had an abundance of weapons.

    Outlaw wrath was a success and the AO was opened up for much faster movement. Clearing up to Kajaki though was not taken as seriously. We would go out for the day, find some, get hit by some, and took plenty of fire. Sometimes we would get lucky and a Marine recon unit operating in the area was nearby and could get the baddies. Mostly though it was just an exchange of gunfire and looking for trigger men. We could go out for 8 hours and find IEDs backlayed on the way back.

    This was the winter of ’10 to the summer of ’11 and we made no real progress besides outlaw wrath. We never made it to Kajaki. Recon set up some OPs further north but there was never freedom of movement through there. Most in the platoon sustained concussions and TBIs while our Corpsmen was shot. Recon had KIAs and their own set of issues I’m sure. The Marines I was with are back there now and they are a few miles north of where we made it. One year and we’ve gained a few miles.

    Route clearance has it’s place but it seems to be misused. I hated outlaw wrath and escort missions because of the regimentation and the loss of freedom that comes from working alone but these are exactly what route clearance should be used for. Deliberate clearing missions that have overwatch once we’ve left so they can’t back lay us and escorting units through uncleared areas. We have thousands of Marines on Camp Leatherneck going through Corporal’s course and other useless crap when they could sit on an OP and watch some road. Don’t even go out on patrols, just sit there with a radio and watch this road. Seems simple enough but apparently now deployments are meant for extra pay and getting away from the wife for awhile. I loved my time in Afgahnistan but it was wasted, we’re not serious about progress there.

  • Will

    Oh yeah, when I asked what the hell we were trying to accomplish they said, “maintaining a prescence. Basically we don’t have a f***ing clue so just go out and operate.


You are currently reading "EOD Operations: Clearing Route X", entry #8531 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,IEDs and was published May 16th, 2012 by Herschel Smith.

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