Blue Line

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Security tools and tech in Afghanistan


September 4, 2013
By Tom Rataj

994 words – MR _photos: rataj column photos folder

Security tools and tech in Afghanistan

by Tom Rataj

The personal security situation for foreigners working in Afghanistan is dangerous.

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Beyond the general chaos found in any third-world country, there are also shootings, suicide bombers on foot and in cars and trucks, remote controlled IED’s and attacks on foreign owned properties and places like hotels. The ever present risk of the “abduction for profit” business is also high.

Protecting foreigners is big business for the many contractors operating in the country. They provide 24-hour armed security for facilities and safer local transportation in armoured vehicles.

{Armoured passenger vehicles}

The Mercedes Geländewagen (G-Wagon) is the leading armoured vehicle used in Afghanistan. The most common version starts-out at the Mercedes factory as just another 4-door all-wheel-drive SUV, powered by a 3.5 litre turbo-diesel engine mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission.

Before being delivered for service, they undergo a substantial transformation by companies such as Alpha Armouring Panzering, a leading German specialist with 30 years of experience.

They are completely armoured using multi layer laminated glass, ballistic steel panels, reinforced roof pillars and various custom fabricated components to handle all the heavy armouring components. All seams and junction points are fortified and overlapped to prevent munitions from penetrating the cabin and to make the whole vehicle more blast resistant.

The entire suspension system and chassis is also overhauled to provide durability and to cope with the additional weight of the armouring systems while still maintaining near civilian-class driveability.

The $300,000 G-Wagons used by EUPOL’s security contractor (HART Security) in Afghanistan are rated at B6+ and can protect against all small arms fire that we were likely to face, I was told, including the popular and common AK47.

Alpha Armouring also produces its own house-branded Atlant variant of the G-Wagon and the Mercedes Sprinter panel van. It also produces an armoured version of the Toyota Land Cruiser.

Additional equipment typically installed in the armoured SUV’s included a mobile radio, GPS based navigation unit and tracking with an emergency alarm/beacon, and a jammer that jams radio signals for a short perimeter around the truck to stymie radio and cell-phone controlled IEDs from being set-off nearby.

{Convoy driving}

Being driven around the chaotic streets of Kabul in our G-Wagons was always an interesting experience. Our group of 4 trucks always drove together in a tight convoy configuration to prevent being separated.

When arriving at intersections or traffic circles, the lead truck would drive into it first and block traffic until the other three trucks cleared.

The driving was at times very aggressive and downright ignorant, sometimes clearly annoying and offending local motorists and pedestrians. On one occasion a young teenaged boy threw a number of large stones at the G-Wagon I was riding in, ineffectively striking the armoured glass beside me.

{Hesco bastion}

Another common piece of security equipment used extensively in Afghanistan is the Hesco bastion. It was developed in the late 1980’s as a flood and erosion control system but quickly became popular for military fortification. It is brilliant in its simplicity and an extremely effective barrier against small-arms fire, vehicle intrusion and car bombs.

Available in a variety of sizes and dimensions, it consists of heavy-duty welded wire mesh panels preassembled into a four-sided module lined with a heavy duty fabric liner. They are flat packed for shipping so easily transported.

Several labourers simply unfold each module and stand it on end. It is then filled with sand, dirt, gravel or any combination of readily available aggregates with front end loaders or similar machinery. They can be connected together into wall sections using specially designed fasteners installed at each corner.

Hesco bastions are often assembled into multi-level wall systems topped with several rows of razor-wire, creating a quick fortified and impenetrable encampment.

{Bremer blast-walls}

Many compounds and facilities in Afghanistan are also protected with Bremer blast walls, consisting of 2.5m wide by 3.7m or 6m tall steel-reinforced precast concrete panels. They have a wider base to keep them standing and are joined with a simple lap joint. They can be quickly interconnected into complete wall syastems by tying together heavy gauge steel cables running through rebar loops cast into the walls at the top and bottom.

{Rough roads and speed-bumps}

One of the lowest tech security measures I witnessed were massive speed-bumps and purposefully rough roads, designed to prevent insurgents driving car and truck bombs from racing up to fortified gates at compounds and facilities.

Even the Mercedes SUV drivers had to slow to a crawl while navigating pothole filled streets and crossing the manufactured speed-bumps. Any speed faster than about 5 kmh would result in loss of vehicle control.

{Sticky bombs}

A recent trend in Afghanistan is the “sticky bomb,” a small handheld device attached to a timed fuse and a magnetic base.

They are surreptitiously affixed to parked vehicles or vehicles stuck in heavy traffic and typically use some type of plastic explosive, which usually has enough of an explosive charge to seriously damage or destroy the vehicle and kill the occupants and anyone nearby.

Every time we drove into a compound, part of the security screening included a physical check for sticky bombs and, in some cases, an explosives detection dog inspected each vehicle to ensure it was safe to proceed.

{Shipping containers}

There were shipping containers everywhere I travelled in Afghanistan; some were actually used for shipping goods!

The strong, bullet-resistant and secure steel containers have been modified to varying degrees of sophistication into standalone buildings for almost any imaginable use other than shipping.

Many temporary facilities use groups of converted shipping containers, often several levels tall, for office space or accommodation.

When I stayed in the temporary quarters in the German army base in Kunduz, I stayed in a very nice, commercially produced, self-contained shipping container room, complete with hardwood laminate flooring, a bathroom, sleeping and storage space, a window and air-conditioning.