Life stories: Bomb disposal in Afghanistan

An inquest is taking place into the death of Olaf Schmid, who was killed in Afghanistan in October 2009. This is his story.

Soldiers call it 'the lonely walk.' Under the baking heat of the Afghan sun, bomb disposal expert Olaf Schmid approaches a hidden explosive, buried under the hard earth of a dirt road. His team watch from a safe distance. They know that the bomb could go off at any moment. As he begins to uncover the deadly device, he is vulnerable, unarmoured and alone.

Working with the delicacy of an artist, Schmid brushes back the dust to expose the wiring underneath. Many bombs are fitted with anti-tampering devices, designed to kill anyone who tries to disarm them. Schmid moves carefully as he attaches his detonation cord to a bare wire.

Job done, he moves away from the bomb, ready to blow it up. With the bomb detonated, the road will be cleared for coalition patrols.

More importantly for Schmid, this job brings him closer to the end of his current tour. Tomorrow, he is set to return to England for some much needed rest. He is looking forward to seeing his wife, Christina, and his 6-year-old stepson…

But that day Schmid's luck ran out. The bomb failed to detonate as planned. As he returned to the device to check the wiring, it exploded, killing him instantly.

For his friends, it was a devastating loss. Bomb disposal experts are a tight knit group.

Many have trained together for years, and Schmid had served on campaigns from Afghanistan to Ireland, proving to be an excellent soldier.

His commanding officer called him 'the bravest and most courageous man' he had ever met. 'Superlatives do not do him justice,' he said. 'Better than the best of the best.'

Back in England his family were grief-stricken. The previous evening, Schmid had spoken to his son who said 'Daddy, it's time to come home.' But Olaf Schmid, beloved husband and father, never returned.

Sacrifice
Schmid was not the first soldier to die in Afghanistan. He will not be the last. British troops face a deadly, determined enemy. Taliban fighters are brave and resourceful, but they know that they cannot win open fights against superior British forces. Instead, they lay ambushes and set bombs, thousands each year.

Defusing these bombs is incredibly dangerous work – but it keeps soldiers safe. Schmid had disarmed 64 devices during his tour and, in the words of his commander, 'saved lives time after time.' His mother, asked about the loss of her son, said: 'I hope his work will be a contribution to making Afghanistan a safer place for British troops and the Afghan people.'

You Decide

  1. Would you ever risk your life for something? If so, what?
  2. There are many tragedies in war. Is it ever worth it?

Activities

  1. Imagine you were the commanding officer of a soldier who'd been killed. Write a letter to the soldier's wife to inform her of his death. What would you say?
  2. Do some research to find out where Afghanistan is and why we're fighting there. Then write a newspaper column arguing either that the war is necessary or that the war is a mistake.

Some People Say...

“The war in Afghanistan is a tragic waste of life.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What are these bombs that are so dangerous?
They're called IEDs – Improvised Explosive Devices. They are often home-made, or produced in crude factories in Pakistan.
And how do they get hold of explosives?
A simple explosive can be manufactured out of ordinary fertiliser. Also used are explosives stolen from the military, or even unexploded artillery shells.
Why are the Taliban fighting us?
British and US troops invaded Afghanistan back in 2001. The Taliban were the old government, and they've been fighting back ever since.
Why did we invade? And why are we still there?
It's controversial. The main reason is that Afghanistan had become a haven for terrorists. Also, the Taliban regime was cruel, with little regard for human rights. If they regain power, many may suffer.