Soldier amputations from Afghan IEDs up sharply

Friday was another deadly day in Afghanistan. In the south, one American was killed and two others wounded when insurgents fired rocket propelled grenades at them.

The biggest threat to U.S. troops remains the roadside bomb. Such attacks are on the rise and have caused a big increase in the number of Americans losing arms and leg, as CBS News David Martin reports.

Marine Sgt. Marshall Kennedy is a victim of an alarming trend -- fertilizer bombs originating in Pakistan dismembering American servicemen in Afghanistan.

He is one of 17 Marines who lost two or more limbs in Afghanistan during the month of June -- the worst month ever for that war. Five other Marines lost a single limb in June.

"When you step on it," said Kennedy, "there's that very millisecond of knowing you just stepped on something. You can't express anything through your mouth or by words in that short time span, but in your mind you' re like, 'Man.'"

"Here it comes," commented Martin.

"Yeah, and you knew what was going to happen."

Special Report: Afghanistan

What happened to Sgt. Kennedy -- who had already done two tours in Iraq and has the names of five buddies who died there tattooed on his arm -- was a double leg amputation: One above the knee and one below, plus some nerve damage to his arm. It was the second time he stepped on an IED. The first one was a dud.

"You have a close call in April and then you get hit in June. The place is just crawling with all these IEDS?" asked Martin.

"It is," responded Kennedy.

Where do all these homemade devices come from? In a word, Pakistan. The overwhelming majority -- 84 percent -- use ammonium nitrate manufactured legally at two fertilizer plants in Pakistan and smuggled illegally into Afghanistan.

With American troops getting out of their mine-resistant vehicles and patrolling on foot, the result has been a tripling in the number of multiple amputations. Nine servicemen a month have suffered multiple amputations in the first six months of this year, compared to three a month in the first six months of last year.

Army 1st Lt. Tyson Quink stepped on the fifth IED his patrol had come across in one day this past June.

"I actually said in my head when I blacked out, 'I guess this is what death feels like,'" said Quink. "You can talk to yourself, but you can't see, and man that's a terrible way to die."

An estimated 480,000 pounds of Pakistani ammonium nitrate have been used in IEDs in Afghanistan during the past year.

Martin asked Kennedy: "Do you know how big the charge was that got you?"

"They said eight pounds."

Based on the going price of ammonium nitrate, it cost the enemy about $25 to make that device.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.