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In the meadows of Afghanistan, an endless search for IEDs
Sunday, September 25th, 2011

KAJAKI, Afghanistan — Marines from Echo Battery, 2/12 Field Artillery, are what is known as provisional infantry.

They are trained for something else, in this case firing huge howitzers at distant targets. However, with the military stretched thin, they are required to patrol and fight on foot as infantrymen.

And like most infantrymen, they find themselves operating as a provisional bomb squad.

The area around the Kajaki Dam and hydroelectric power plant is seeded with old Russian mines, and local Taliban fighters make improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are just as deadly and often more difficult to detect.

The Marines carry sophisticated electronics to try to find or disable the IEDs, but often it comes down to having sharp eyes, and spotting a bit of wire poking through the soil.

The artillerymen, based at Forward Operating Base Zeebrugge, have lost one Marine and had several terribly wounded in the few months they've been at Kajaki. Local children have also been killed by IED. A little boy rode his bicycle over one recently.

The meadows are littered with shrapnel from 30 years of war, which makes the metal detectors difficult to use. The knee-high grass also hides bones of IED and mine victims.

Marines make the grim discoveries from time to time, finding a leg bone from one of their fallen comrades picked clean by ants or a shredded piece of body armor.

Songbirds chirp and flutter about Kajaki's verdant meadows without a care, but a creeping fear hangs over anyone who sets foot in the grass, soft and deadly.

written and photographed by Ben Brody

– You can see more of Ben Brody's work at his website.

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Marines from Kajaki's Forward Operating Base Zeebrugge on a mission to clear mines and IEDs in a nearby field. Every inch of this grass could be deadly — the area is heavily mined by the Taliban. A Marine digs in the dirt after his metal detector beeped. Aug. 6, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Marines use a variety of tools to hunt for IEDs - some of them quite simple. Aug. 6, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Sgt. David Nunez examines a piece of shredded body armor found in the grass, most likely from a mine strike that killed a Marine a month ago. Near the armor Nunez also found a leg bone that appeared to be human leg, picked clean by ants. Aug. 7, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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IEDs and land mines kill indiscriminately - Kajaki's minefields are littered with human and animal bones. Aug. 6, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Cpl. Marcus Tate methodically examines a suspisicous patch of grass. Aug. 6, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Cpl. Cody Spraggins uses a metal detector to sweep the grass for mines. The field is littered with shrapnel from decades of war and the sweep is slow going. Aug. 6, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Sgt. David Nunez points out where a Marine was killed by an IED weeks earlier. Aug. 7, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Marines prepare to burn tall weeds so it will be easier to find IEDs. Aug. 6, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Cpl. Robert Roskowski starts a blaze to clear brush in order to find mines. Aug. 6, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Cpl. Robert Roskowski throws a phosphorous grenade to start a fire in a heap of brush and branches. Aug. 6, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Cpl. Justin Crabbe turns from the flames, which are oppressive in Helmand's 115 degree heat. Aug. 6, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Cpl. Abraham Willis and his bomb-sniffing dog Preacher, walk through a rocky field during a long day looking for IEDs. Aug. 6, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Kajaki farmers pull weeds from a soybean field as Marines hunt for IEDs nearby. The farmers do their best to avoid the IEDs, but nevertheless step on them regularly. Aug. 10, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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The latest IED death in Kajaki was an Afghan boy who rode his bicycle over one meant for the Marines. Aug. 10, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Marines watch a huge IED explode in the distance. After they discovered the IED, they rigged it with a timed charge and destroyed it. Aug. 11, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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For these Marines, a day where no one steps on an IED is a good day. Cpl. Jacob Schaefer grins as he climbs the final hill of the patrol. Aug. 6, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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Marines are often tasked with finding mines, so they must make do with the equipment they have or can make from local materials. Aug. 10, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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All this work clearing the fields is to eventually open this road, which leads to the Kajaki Dam. Scythes slung over their shoulders, the Marines head back to Forward Operating Base Zeebrugge. Aug. 7, 2011.

(Ben Brody - GlobalPost)
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