Earlier this month, a US Army Soldier became the eighth American to die in Afghanistan in 2018- and his gruesome death may have been the result of incompetence on the part of the ambushed unit he was attempting to assist, according to a recent report by the New York Times.
23-year-old North Carolina National Guard Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician Specialist James Slape was killed on October 4 while responding to reports of an IED ambush along a strategically-important ridge, located in the Helmand Province.
Slape and other members of the North Carolina Guard’s 430th Ordnance Company embedded with a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to aid members of the 41st Infantry Regiment’s 1st Battalion, who sustained no injuries but were ultimately rendered immobile after a vehicle struck a roadside bomb.
The ridge where the attack took place had become a frequent stopping site for American troops, as it served a dual role as an observation point and prime location for intercepting Taliban communications.
However, the Americans weren’t the only ones who had their eye on the ridge- and the Taliban were waiting.
At some point, US units in the area repeatedly went to the same area, creating a pattern that should have been broken up by taking different routes each time. A month prior, one unit from 1/41 INF reported being watched by the Taliban, but journeys to the ridgeline continued.
Since that last report, the Taliban had set multiple explosives in the area, resulting in the October 4 ambush.
While not lacking in courage, Slape’s EOD team was sorely under-equipped, often having to borrow things from other units in order to accomplish the tasks set before them.
Stepping out of his vehicle, Slape began clearing a path for recovery vehicles to secure the downed MaxxPro truck. During his sweep, he was killed by one of the traps that had been laid by the Taliban.
In the end, Specialist James Slape was killed by a massive explosion, with parts of his body scattered across the ridge. He was pronounced dead after being medically evacuated to Camp Dwyer. The Taliban would eventually recover his leg, parading it around a Garsmir District market and posting photos of it onto social media.
After the blast, a responding route clearance team inadvertently triggered two more explosions in an effort to clear the area, and two unexploded traps were later found.
According to the New York Times, it is unknown why the American infantry unit returned to the same spot multiple times- a habit that Afghan militants have relished even when the former Soviet Union rolled military hardware through the country. American units are typically trained to avoid such a predictable pattern, lest it end with fatal results, as it did with Specialist Slape.
While the 430th had repeatedly requested better equipment and crucial predeployment training, the unit was denied both due to lack of funding, according to documents obtained by the New York Times. However, North Carolina National Guard spokesman LTC Matthew DeVivo claimed the unit had received all required training and equipment.
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