Defusing ISIS bombs with bare hands and little else

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iraq bomb disposal michael holmes pkg_00010809

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    Clearing deadly trail left by ISIS

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Clearing deadly trail left by ISIS 03:06

Story highlights

  • As Kurdish and Iraqi forces edge ever closer to Mosul, ISIS fighters fall back. But in their absence, they leave behind their ability to kill
  • Just how many IEDs are along the roads and in the villages around Mosul is impossible to tell

(CNN)Along a dusty village track just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Mosul, a Peshmerga pick up truck leads us to a small house. We drive slowly, and in single file. There are hidden dangers all around.

In a covered area at the house, Captain Chilhan Sadk shows us dozens of ISIS Improvised Explosive Devices -- or IEDs -- that he and his men have dug up and defused in recent days.
    It is a sobering show and tell -- and it isn't over yet. He brings us a suicide belt worn by an ISIS fighter who was killed before he could detonate it. Captain Sadk defused this deadly explosive too -- and an even bigger one he produces from the back of the pick up.
    It's a silver box he says another ISIS fighter had carried in a backpack, primed and ready for detonation when he was shot dead. It would have been a massive blast had it gone off, packed with C4 explosives and hundreds of ball bearings.

    This is no 'Hurt Locker'

    All in a day's work for Kurdish teams led by men like Captain Sadk. Clearly, it's a dangerous job, but it has been particularly deadly for the Kurds, who have precious little in the way of high-tech equipment or training. For most here it's a learn-on-the-job affair, involving old metal detectors, wire clippers and bare hands. No body armor for many -- let alone bomb disposal suits. This is not "The Hurt Locker" movie.
    It requires a level of bravery incomprehensible to most, but Captain Sadk is sanguine.
    "I do it for humanity," he says. "The people who plant such things are dangerous for my people, for the world and so it is my decision to help save lives even if it costs me my own."
    On his cellphone he shows us a photograph of a close friend and fellow de-miner killed just days ago; one of dozens who've died doing this job.
    Captain Chilhan Sadk with an ISIS-made suicide belt he diffused.

    'Open a door or even a refrigerator and it blows up'

    As Kurdish and Iraqi forces edge ever closer to Mosul, ISIS fighters fall back. But in their absence, they leave behind their ability to kill and maim.
    Back at the frontline headquarters of the Zeravani Special Forces, Brigadier General Bajat Mzuri tells us just how deadly ISIS IEDs and booby-traps can be. He says more of his fighters have died because of such explosives than on the battlefield itself -- and nearly a third of those IED casualties are the people tasked with finding and defusing them.
    "They put them on the road, in the houses," he says. "We liberate a village and they are everywhere -- people come back to their homes, open a door or even a refrigerator and it blows up."
    The General adds that despite repeated requests to the coalition for better equipment to do this most dangerous of jobs, precious little has come.
    Brigadier General Bajat Mzuri and his men.

    Three months to clear just one village

    On the road back to Erbil, we see dozens of small trucks laden with personal effects -- residents of now liberated villages who returned briefly to grab whatever they could before leaving again. They're not ready to return, and for good reason.
    "We can't live there," Mejwal Ahmed Hade tells me. "Not only is there no water, no electricity and damage everywhere, but there are explosives as well and no one knows where."
    Just how many IEDs and booby-traps are along the roads and in the villages around Mosul is impossible to tell. Brigadier General Mzuri tells us his men have spent three months trying to clear one village and still aren't finished.
    Clearing this area of rigged explosives will take longer -- much longer -- than the battle for Mosul itself.