119 Improvised Explosive Devices (“IED”); 119 trysts with death; 119 deeds of valour; 119 instances of innumerable lives saved! Painting the Sand is an autobiographical account of heroics, horror and horripilation. Kim Hughes QC is one of the most decorated military professionals in the United Kingdom. Deployed in the harsh and unforgiving terrains of Afghanistan following the War on Terror declaration of George W Bush in the aftermath of the heinous World Trade Centre attacks, Kim Hughes was part of the EOD team tasked with taking care of the innumerable IEDs littering the Afghan landscape.
Kim Hughes in recounting his six months of military engagement which made him scour the barren Helmand province in search of deadly IEDs which killed or incapacitated innumerable soldiers provides a no holds barred, spine chilling and ghastly overview of the theatre of operations. Pulling absolutely no punches, Hughes describes in nerve tingling detail the entire process which an Am munitions Technical Officer (“ATO”) engages in neutralising a buried IED. The painstakingly deadly process involving myriad tools ranging from an innocuous paintbrush to an intricate collection of incendiaries and explosives makes the hair at the nape of the reader’s neck to bristle with both apprehension and anticipation. The ingenuity of the enemy countered by the innovation of Hughes’ team makes for some riveting reading. Even though bereft of every kind of sophisticated technology on account of zero access to the requisite materials, the Taliban prove themselves to be adept improvisers as they scour the earth for every piece of scrap, metal and casing and from the motley collection assemble rude, crude and dangerous IEDs packed with 20 kilograms of Home Made Explosives (“HME”). Hughes says that the objective of the battle hardy extremists is to maim the NATO forces if not to kill them outright.
Using a refreshingly frank and forthright approach, Hughes details out his academic failures, a tempestuous relationship with an aggressive step father, and a marriage that from the outset was doomed to fail before highlighting his hazardous assignment in the mountainous landscape of Afghanistan. Triumph intermingles with tragedy as the successful completion of a mission is tarnished by the loss of a close friend. By the time Hughes finished his assignment, he had chalked up a stupendous record of identifying and neutralising a staggering 119 IEDs a feat unmatched before or since. However there is neither haughtiness nor pride in the narration of Hughes. It is just the culmination of a duty and a noble service which led to the preservation of a great many number of precious lives.
“Painting the Sand” is an unforgettable canvas of pain, perseverance, patience and pleasure!