Afghan troops have largely taken over from Americans in doing the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) work to get rid of all the terrorist (and increasingly gangster) bombs and mines. About half the 300 Afghan police and soldiers who get killed each month are the victims of the roadside bombs and mines the EOD teams don’t know about or don’t get to in time. NATO troops suffer a slightly lower rate of loss to these bombs, which indicates that the Afghans are able to be competitive in this area. The Afghan EOD troops have plenty of work. Right now most Afghan EOD teams are accompanied by a few of their American counterparts, to advise, warn, and tutor.
By American standards the Afghans are quick learners but brash and sometimes undisciplined. But each time these bad habits get an Afghan EOD tech killed or hurt, the word gets around and attitudes are adjusted a bit. Many Afghans believed the American EOD men were some kind of magicians but the work is all about precision and discipline. To some Afghans that is still magic, but it’s a form of magic an Afghan can acquire.
Right now the Afghan military has about 400 EOD technicians. The Afghan army and police are taking over security responsibility for all of Afghanistan, and currently all but the most violent areas in the south and east are protected by Afghans. That means Afghan EOD teams are taking care of most of the bombs. Afghanistan will need about a thousand of these specialists to replace the departed American and NATO EOD specialists. Currently, two or three bombs go off each day and kill three or four Afghans on average. NATO has set up an EOD school staffed with 190 EOD experts and providing 19 different courses. Much of this training prepares soldiers and police to better spot bombs and call in EOD to deal with it.
The EOD training is long (eight months) and arduous because the work is dangerous. The casualty rate is higher than being in the infantry but the pay is better and you get a lot of respect, which is a big deal in Afghanistan. The danger is not a totally negative thing because EOD always attracted the adrenaline junkies, who were skilled and disciplined enough to get through the training.
The Afghans have adopted the American attitude that only the best recruits will do and that the skills must be mastered before the new EOD techs are turned loose on the real thing. Trainees take quickly to this arrangement and all the details (of different kinds of bombs) and equipment (robots, sensor, and the full body protective suit) the job involves. Many of the new Afghan EODs already have experience working on the demining teams that have been clearing Afghanistan of all the mines and old munitions left behind by the Russians in the 1980s.
One downside of the American approach to EOD is the use of a lot of expensive equipment (special bomb suits, robots, jammers, and sensors). While the U.S. will leave a lot of this stuff behind, the Afghans are worried about keeping it maintained.