MICHELE NORRIS, host:
To Afghanistan now, and a grim milestone for U.S. troops. In July, at least 63 Americans were killed - more than two a day. That's the highest monthly tally in nearly nine years of war. Perhaps the biggest killer was the roadside bomb, or IED - improvised explosive device.
The Pentagon has allocated $3 billion this year to counteract these homemade bombs. But as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports, insurgents also keep adapting - with a deadly cost.
QUIL LAWRENCE: This Friday, in the northern province of Kundus(ph), Charlie Company of the 10th Mountain's 187th Infantry was on a routine patrol. Explosions are part of the routine.
(Soundbite of hammering)
LAWRENCE: Back at the base, Private Jacob Jackson, of the 2nd Engineers Battalion, is helping repair his Husky a titanic vehicle that looks part tractor, part road grader and part bomb shelter. Jackson was doing route clearance along with Charlie Company on Friday, and his Husky has the scorch marks to prove it.
Private JACOB JACKSON (2nd Engineers Battalion): When we got right past the culvert, must've hit a pressure plate and bam, the right side of my - my side went blank. And the next thing I knew, I kind of came to and everything was all right. Like, I was perfectly fine.
LAWRENCE: Jackson had rolled over a 400-pound bomb. That's his job. But it was his first time actually hitting one. It only scared him a little.
Private JACKSON: Good adrenaline rush but besides that - like, I was fine. The vehicle did what it was supposed to do. So, not a big deal.
LAWRENCE: The Husky is one of many innovations developed over several years at war to counter the IED threat. Another is the MRAP, a huge, armored, short bus that, for a while, effectively neutralized the roadside bombs in Iraq. But Iraq and Afghanistan are different, according to Undersecretary of Defense Ash Carter, who spends a large part of his time trying to beat the IED. The answer, he said, was an all-terrain MATV.
Dr. ASH CARTER (Undersecretary of Defense): We learned quickly that the MRAPs that were so useful in Iraq were not always appropriate to the terrain here. They had suspensions that were designed for flat Iraq, not for mountainous Afghanistan. And so the MATV has independent suspension, which allows it to get off the road and therefore, avoid IEDs.
LAWRENCE: There are many more pieces of the puzzle surveillance, bomb-sniffing machines and trained specialists. But the insurgents have also been working hard. In Iraq, they used explosively shaped charges that cut through armor. In Afghanistan, the bombs just got bigger and bigger. In any case, soldiers have to get out of their armored trucks to do their job.
Hours after the first bomb hit the Husky, a second IED was waiting for Charlie Company. A platoon sergeant asked not to give his name.
Unidentified Platoon Sergeant: Another one exploded right behind me, and there's a big boom. And my ears started ringing; I was disorientated(ph). I had lost feeling in my left leg, and I went down. And then I was carried off.
LAWRENCE: The sergeant was incredibly lucky. A parked MRAP shielded him from the blast. He sustained no major injuries. Medics still sent him to the hospital since the concussion can cause a traumatic brain injury - especially if it's not the first time.
Unidentified Platoon Sergeant: I walked away with nothing, thankfully. Just my bell got rung pretty good. And they just want to - they want to keep an eye on the - I've got two prior deployments to Iraq, and countless IED explosions there.
LAWRENCE: And chances are, there will be more. The sergeant says he tried to go home after two tours to Iraq. He went to college for a semester, but then a comrade died in Fallujah. He quit school and re-enlisted, wracked with guilt for not taking part in the fight. Now, he says, he's going to stay 'til the end. He'll see more, newer methods from the Pentagon to protect from IEDs - and more, newer roadside bombs from the insurgents.
Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.
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