IEDs in Afghanistan: The Deadliest Weapon

Bryon Pitts Reports On The Dangerous Mission of Clearing IEDs in Afghanistan

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More than 130 Americans have been killed so far this year in Afghanistan. Most of them were killed by the deadliest weapon in the enemy's arsenal, the roadside bomb, or IED, an improvised explosive device.

On this Memorial Day weekend, we wanted to honor the American servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice and to remind you of the challenges our military faces every day.

One of the biggest challenges is to find roadside bombs before they explode.

As we first reported last fall, a small army of elite units called "Task Force Paladin" carries out search and destroy missions looking for them.

Only volunteers are allowed to serve on Paladin teams because their mission and the weapons they're trying to find are so dangerous.

Extra: A Solemn Farewell
Extra: Five Bombs in Two Days
Extra: The Deadliest Job
Extra: Bomb Squad Training

"It's been a terrorist tool of choice for many, many years," Col. Jeffrey Jarkowsky told 60 Minutes correspondent Byron Pitts.

Col. Jarkowsky was in charge of Task Force Paladin at the Bagram Air Base when we visited Afghanistan.

"'Look at us. We can kill, we can maim, we can destroy when we want to, and the Americans can't stop us,'" Pitts remarked.

"That's their intent, yes," Jarkowsky agreed.

The day after we arrived at Bagram, a roadside bomb claimed two more American lives. The base held what's called a fallen comrade ceremony for Air Force Lieutenant Roslyn Schulte and Army Reservist Shawn Pine, an intelligence consultant. Service members by the hundreds stopped what they were doing and lined the street to pay their respects as the coffins were driven slowly from the base mortuary to the air strip. Video of the ceremony was produced by the military for the family of Lt. Schulte, who shared it with us.

"In the week that we've been here, five Americans have been killed by IEDs. How does that hit you?" Pitts asked Col. Jarkowsky.

"Very hard. We take each one of these personally," he replied. "And I think about their families. And every time we see one of these casualties, we look at what happened, both to see what did the enemy do, how can we counter what the enemy has done."

To try to counter the bomb threat, Paladin squads hit the road every day looking for explosives. We spent ten days with a squad led by Army Captain Dave Foster. In less than an hour, they discovered their first bomb. It would not be the last.

"The IED that we found had a 107 millimeter rocket connected to a command wire. As the team was doing dismount and ops they found the command wire. A 107 millimeter rocket has approximately about eight pounds of explosives in the warhead," Capt. Foster explained.

They spotted it near a family's home. Staff Sergeant Max Cabrera found and then disconnected the command wire - or detonation wire - disabling the bomb.

Despite the risk to himself, Staff Sgt. Cabrera picked up the bomb, and to avoid civilian casualties, he carried it behind an abandoned building and blew it up.

"You get scared, but when you got so many things going through your mind, you just don't even know what to concentrate on sometimes," Cabrera told Pitts.

Asked if he's scared, he said, "Yes sir. Everybody is. Lets you know you're still alive."

Cabrera is 27. His home is on the island of Saipan, in the West Pacific. He told Pitts he estimates an IED costs about $10 to make in Afghanistan.

Asked what it takes to do the job of disabling bombs, Capt. Foster told Pitts, "A belief that you are making a difference and a little bit of craziness."

"A little bit of crazy goes a long way in Afghanistan," Pitts remarked.

"Yes sir. It does," Foster said.