Looking back at Navy Divers' contribution to war on IEDs

Published on Mr Michael Brooke (author), WO2 Andrew Hetherington (photographer), LSIS Andrew Dakin (photographer), CPL Hamish Paterson (photographer)

Topic(s): Operation SLIPPER, Diving Teams

Leading Seaman Clearance Diver Michael Greenfield, Flight Sergeant Peter Radcliffe and Corporal Luke Troy from Combined Team Uruzgan at Patrol Base Wali in Afghanistan. (photo: CPL Hamish Paterson)
Leading Seaman Clearance Diver Michael Greenfield, Flight Sergeant Peter Radcliffe and Corporal Luke Troy from Combined Team Uruzgan at Patrol Base Wali in Afghanistan.

Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers employed to counter the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have made the war-torn environment of Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province safer for diggers and local Afghan civilians.

Clearance divers from the Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving (MCD) Group and wider capability, including Navy’s clearance diving teams, were integral to the joint Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the Coalition’s fight against IEDS.

Clearance divers from Australian Clearance Diving Team – One (AUSCDT-1) were attached to the Army’s 20th Explosive Ordnance Demolition Squadron for deployment into theatre.

Their comprehensive explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training and experience put them in the frontline of the war on IEDs. The insurgents’ indiscriminate use of IEDs continues to cause the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties.

More than 50 Navy clearance divers have served in the Middle East Area of Operations, many of them in Afghanistan, in counter improvised explosive device (CIED) positions.

Royal Australian Navy Clearance Diver explosive ordnance technicians at Multi National Base - Tarin Kot, Afghanistan. Front row, from left: Lieutenant Robert Woodall, Chief Petty Officer Clearance Diver Luke Graham, Chief Petty Officer Clearance Diver Andrew Keitley. Back row, from left: Petty Officer Clearance Diver Christian O'Neill, Leading Seaman Clearance Diver Dale Johns.

Royal Australian Navy Clearance Diver explosive ordnance technicians at Multi National Base - Tarin Kot, Afghanistan. Front row, from left: Lieutenant Robert Woodall, Chief Petty Officer Clearance Diver Luke Graham, Chief Petty Officer Clearance Diver Andrew Keitley. Back row, from left: Petty Officer Clearance Diver Christian O'Neill, Leading Seaman Clearance Diver Dale Johns.


The ‘bubblies’ also stepped up for Navy to fill rotational ADF billets as CIED Chief Exploitation Officers posted to Headquarters International Security Assistance Force (HQ ISAF), while senior and junior sailor clearance divers performed operational IED disposal deployments to Uruzgan province.

The Commander Australian Mine Warfare, Clearance Diving, Hydrographic, Meteorological and Patrol Force, Captain Robert Plath, RAN, praised the divers for their hard work and meaningful contribution to CIED operations in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province.

“The Navy Clearance Diver (CD) category is highly trained and experienced in EOD operations both above and below the water line,” Captain Plath said.

“Their valuable skills make them highly suited to the critical CIED role – even in a land-locked country.

“The battle against the IEDs was crucial to bringing economic sustainability for the people of Afghanistan.”

The excellent work of Lieutenant Commander Russ Crawford was acknowledged with an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commendation, which recognised his important contribution to countering the IED menace in Afghanistan.

“The fact that Navy has been able to fill all its commitments and more, including the rotations of other Services, is testament to this and the high regard given to the divers’ subject matter expertise in this area,” LCDR Crawford said.

“All the operators would agree that their leadership experience and previous exposure in the CIED and IED disposal environments enabled them to make a significant contribution to the CIED fight.”

Deputy MCD Capability Manager LCDR David Ince said the HQ ISAF CIED job entailed the coordination of all CIED exploitation teams across Afghanistan, the analysis of trends and enemy tactics and direct support to targeting the insurgency IED network.

“The CIED job also involved the training and mentoring of Afghan National Security Force EOD and IED disposal teams on the ground in and around Kabul,” he said.

Explosive Ordnance Reconnaissance Technician and Clearance Diver Leading Seaman Dale Johns discusses the capabilities of a training explosive charge with Afghan National Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel Sergeants Ghulam Habib and Muhibullah at the Multi National Base - Tarin Kot range.

Explosive Ordnance Reconnaissance Technician and Clearance Diver Leading Seaman Dale Johns discusses the capabilities of a training explosive charge with Afghan National Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel Sergeants Ghulam Habib and Muhibullah at the Multi National Base - Tarin Kot range.


LCDR Ince said the main responsibility of the job was “to make a difference and not just count the IEDs, but actually counter them by providing useful and timely exploitation intelligence to the action arms.

“We called it ‘getting left of boom’,” he said.

Clearance divers also helped local police and soldiers in Uruzgan province dispose of IEDs through the Explosive Hazard Reduction Course run in Tarin Kot.

CPOCD Shaun Elliott said the course was a highly successful education program designed to give indigenous forces the capability to clear IEDs and unexploded ordnance independently.

“The ANP spend a lot of time at checkpoints and it’s very common that they find or have IEDs and suspicious items handed in to them,” he said.

“We gave them the capability to deal with such hazards on site, rather than wait for Coalition forces or Afghan National Army EODs to arrive and deal with the threat.

“Train the trainer was our end game.

“We got them to a point where they are successfully training their own personnel, and operate independently around the province.”

The explosive reduction course was run at the purpose-built counter IED compound to emulate a practical and realistic training environment.

“We educated them on all types of explosive hazards, respective threat levels, ways to counter different charges and ideal courses of action for each scenario,” CPO Elliott said.

“We did this in an environment similar to that outside the wire.”