Hobart sailor’s explosive mission

*By Max Bree in Afghanistan

BELLERIVE local and Royal Australian Navy lieutenant commander Alastair Walsh is lending his knowledge of explosives to Afghan security forces as they grapple with the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“You’d be struggling to find an Afghan family that hasn’t been impacted by IEDs, with fatalities or injuries,” he said.

“It’s something they want dealt with.”

Mr Walsh graduated from the Hutchins School in 1999 before studying astronomical engineering at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

He went on to become a navy mine warfare clearance diving officer, specialising in the disposal of explosive ordnance.

In January, Mr Walsh was deployed to Afghanistan as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO’s) Resolute Support mission, where he is currently involved in “exploiting” intelligence from IEDs and helping Afghans do the same.

Exploitation involves analysing unexploded devices or sifting through evidence after a blast to understand the IED’s make-up, trigger and explosive content.

From this it is possible to learn how devices are used on the battlefield and ways to mitigate the threat.

“With electronic triggers, we can understand the frequency and the settings that they’re using,” Mr Walsh said.

“Then we can develop better jammers so the devices won’t function.”

Mr Walsh will sometimes attend blast scenes involving coalition forces in Kabul, where he is deployed.

“The Afghans will always turn-up on scene as well and that gives us the ability to advise them on their own evidence collection procedures,” he said.

“It’s initially chaotic – you’re trying to find out who the senior Afghan on-site is and how well their skills are developed in terms of scene management.”

Police, army and other agencies will also arrive on-scene to conduct their own evidence collection.

“They don’t run a crime scene to western standards,” Mr Walsh said.

“Quite often their priority is to get the scene cleaned up as quickly as possible, to get traffic moving and everything back to a sense of normality.

“That just comes from a lack of understanding about what evidence and intelligence can be collected after the blast.”

Although the Afghans were keen to stamp-out IEDs, Mr Walsh said it was important for them to focus on the future.

“Exploitation affects every security pillar for them,” he said.

“But it’s a balancing act of priorities for when they’re dealing with day-to-day operations.”

Mr Walsh once represented Tasmania in rowing and water polo, and his parents, Ross and Ken, still live in Bellerive.

“I get back there once or twice a year,” he said.

“It’s a little bit lower stress than the mainland cities – you get to relax and enjoy some outdoor adventures.

“Plus, it’s good to catch up with friends and family.”

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