Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are among the most significant threats to coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. During 2004, Hunter, a former British ammunition technical officer, served a four-month tour in Basra defusing IEDs and working to counter Sunni and Shi'i bomb-making networks. Eight Lives Down is his story of the waging of this particular war within a war; an IED incident looks a lot different in his telling than it does in a telegraphic significant activities or clinical after-action report.
It is a very personal story of men under real pressure: the threat of physical death or injury, the threat of failing in the eyes of fellow team members, the understanding that failure would likely result in the deaths of other soldiers and innocent civilians, and the strain all this imposes on personal lives. Hunter also provides an insight into the dynamic nature of the threat. He writes directly about the adaptive and evolving nature of the bomb-makers and their weapons, including the tactical and technical differences between the Sunni and Shi'i IED networks. Over the course of his tour, he witnessed the development of increasingly sophisticated bombs and triggering devices and the growing role of bomb-making technology and materials provided by Iranians with expertise and material largely from within Iran. It seems likely that he was one of the first coalition soldiers to encounter IEDs with explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), devices of Iranian origin and among the most effective devices employed in Iraq against the coalition. Hunter depicts a very dynamic environment as both sides innovate to gain technical or tactical advantage. Coevolutionary environments have become the norm for Western forces engaged in irregular or asymmetric wars. The author also opens up the world of what is known as "left of the blast" or "left of boom," the networks and processes that are required to design, produce, and place an IED before it is triggered. This has been one of the most difficult parts of the IED menace for U.S. and coalition forces to penetrate although it is recognized as the key to defeating the threat.
Hunter's writing is earthy and filled with British Army slang; for anyone interested in how Iraqis fight and what Allied troops face, this is a useful read.