Save Team 11:

Nat’l Guard SF Soldier Works to Evacuate Former Afghan Colleagues from Afghanistan

Team 11, a unit of Afghan counter-IED specialists known as the National Mine Reduction Group (NMRG), worked with the U.S. Army Special Forces to clear IEDs in Afghanistan operations.

Team 11, a unit of Afghan counter-IED specialists known as the National Mine Reduction Group (NMRG), worked with the U.S. Army Special Forces to clear IEDs in Afghanistan operations.

By Thomas Kasza
All photos courtesy of Tom Kasza

Well before the disastrous withdrawal from Hamid Karzai International Airport last year, Afghan interpreters, and the risks they took by aiding US Forces were well known. Their tenacity in rising above the crushing poverty of their home villages via their own innovation and persistence is admirable in the extreme. Now, exchange that well-known narrative of “They provided Dari-English translations” with “They swept for IEDs at the forefront of Special Forces night-raids,” and you begin to have a sense for the kind of risks undertaken by the Afghan men of the National Mine Reduction Group.

A virtual unknown due to their small numbers and affiliation with Special Forces, the NMRG cleared the way for the Green Berets and other SOF they partnered with in the most literal sense possible. Stood up during the Village Stability Operations phase of the Afghan war, the Civil Mine Reduction Group, as they were known at the time, were heavily relied upon to detect and disable IEDs, as their unique familiarity with Taliban tactics and local geography mitigated the inevitable learning curves experienced by constant rotations of new ODAs. Many Green Berets are alive or unmaimed because a member of the NMRG was running point with a metal detector.

In 20 years in Afghanistan, only two groups of local nationals earned sufficient trust to share the same camps and barracks with ODAs: interpreters and the NMRG. The unparalleled risk that they undertook made them the most trusted partner force SF has seen since the Montagnards.

CIED training
CIED training

I served as manager for NMRG Team #11 during a 2019-20 deployment to southern Afghanistan. Like many before and after me, I was the beneficiary of their service. In late 2019, my detachment conducted a clearance operation targeting a Taliban staging area in Uruzgan province. The village we were to hit was horse-shoe shaped, encircling a central hill. As the detachment sniper, having an elevated position where I could provide overwatch for the entire assault element was an enticing prospect. Of course, the Taliban knew this too…

After an uneventful infiltration via CH-47, we secured a foothold in a compound at the base of the hill. With the command element remaining in the compound, I selected two of my NMRG­ — “Ahman” and “Gordy” — along with two attached infantrymen from the 82nd Airborne, and an Afghan Commando machinegun team. With Ahman leading the way, sweeping with his CIEA (pronounced “chaya”) metal detector, and Gordy marking a safe path with infrared markers, we began trudging up the hill.

Halfway up, Ahman’s CIEA screeched to life. While alarming, we were exposed on the open hillside, and had plenty of room to maneuver. I instructed Gordy to mark the site with a chemlight, and we bypassed it on the way upwards. The top of the hill clearly had been an old Taliban fighting position. The crest was lined with a thick embankment that hinted at the employment of heavy machinery, and through my night-vision I could see a second, interior set of raised earthen walls — perhaps an abandoned ammunition point, maybe even a mortar pit. Predictably, the screech of Ahman’s CIEA once again screamed into the night.

Uncovering an IED