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Weapons: The False Hope
   Next Article → WINNING: The Gang That Can't Kill Straight

August 19, 2008: Islamic terrorists persist in using roadside bombs (or IED, improvised explosive device) against U.S. troops, even though it's proved to be an expensive, dangerous and largely ineffective weapon against Western troops. For example, there is one Western casualty for every eight IEDs encountered in Iraq. Most IEDs encountered are destroyed or disabled before they can hurt anyone. Many more are never encountered, meaning that the enemy has to build, place and attempt to detonate over ten IEDs for every Western soldier they kill or wound (and most IED casualties are wounded). In Iraq alone, the enemy employed over 200,000 IEDs. While that accounted for over half of U.S. casualties, the overall American casualty rate was about a third of what it was in Vietnam (or World War II, for that matter). The Islamic terrorists lost in Iraq, but not so much because they used so many IEDs, but because the roadside bombs were the best way to hurt American troops, without taking so many casualties themselves.

Because the IED has proved to be the most successful weapon used by Iraqi terrorists, the media tended to report it as some kind of newish super weapon. However, IEDs have been around for several generations. The only reason they are getting so much ink in Iraq is because the terrorists are unable to inflict many casualties on American troops any other way. The Arab terrorists in Iraq are not very effective. While the overall casualty rate was 10:1 in favor of the Americans, it was much less when using IEDs, than when trying to fight the U.S. troops head on. For the Iraqi terrorists, IEDs were the best of a bad situation. But it was a losing situation nonetheless.

The Vietnamese terrorists (the Viet Cong) were much more formidable opponents. Even so, the Viet Cong were largely destroyed as a force during the Tet Offensive of 1968, and were eliminated as a force in the Vietnam war shortly thereafter. The North Vietnamese army then became the major enemy force, and eventually conquered South Vietnam with a conventional invasion, coming across the border with tanks and artillery, in 1975. That was there second attempt, the one in 1972 was defeated. The Vietnam war involved irregulars and terrorists, but was finally won by a conventional operation. That particular aspect of the Vietnam war is generally forgotten, but there it is. In Iraq, the enemy never got out of the guerilla terrorist phase, and were defeated there.

 IEDs were used in Vietnam, but caused (with mines, and booby traps in general) only 13 percent of the casualties, compared to over 60 percent in Iraq. The reason for this, is one that few journalists want to discuss openly. But historians can tell you; Arabs are lousy fighters. Hasn't always been this way, but for the last century or so, it has. This has more to do with poor leadership, and a culture that simply does not encourage those traits that are needed to produce a superior soldier. In a word, the North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong guerillas were better, and more deadly, fighters. Contributing factors in less effective enemy performance in Iraq include better training and equipment for American and Coalition troops. But most of the reason for the historically low casualty rates in Iraq have to do with Iraqis who don't know how to fight effectively.

 IEDs are another matter. They are mainly a matter of technology, planning and careful preparation for the attack. These are all things Iraqi Sunni Arabs are good at. You also suffer a lot fewer casualties by using IEDs, so the weapon is good for the morale of the users. From 2002-2006, the IED has been used more and more in Iraq. While only 5,607 IEDs were placed in 2004, there were 10,953 encountered in 2005. But American troops responded to the threat. In 2004, about a quarter of IEDs actually went off and hurt someone. In 2005, that rate declined to ten percent, and kept falling. This has been very frustrating for the terrorists and nerve wracking for the American troops on the receiving end. While billions of dollars has been put into developing new devices to counter IEDs, the best defensive tool is still alert troops, who have been briefed on the latest intel about what kind of IEDs are being planted.

 Technology, in the form of electronic jammers (to interfere with detonation), UAVs (to fly over routes looking for IEDs, or people planting them) and intel analysis (to identify IED characteristics, and that of their makers) have contributed a lot, to nullifying most IEDs. But in the end, it's the troops in the vehicles subject to attack who are the last, and often most effective, line of defense. Up through 2007, IED use increased enormously, but American casualties remained the same.

IEDs are the weapon of a weak opponent. They kill many of your own people, and that eventually destroys support from the people the terrorists say they are fighting for. Unless IEDs can turn things around for the users, they are self-defeating. This isn't sexy, and doesn't make for exciting journalism, but there it is.

In Afghanistan, there is growing use of IEDs, but nothing like what was seen in Iraq. At the rate they are being encountered now, there will be about a thousand IEDs used in Afghanistan this year. Actually, use peaked in the Spring, at about 200 a month. Moreover, the Afghan IEDs are rather more crude than the ones found in Iraq. Part of that is due to the lack of skilled personnel for building, placing and detonating them. Actually, very few of the Afghan IEDs are triggered by a wireless device. That's because of the growing effectiveness of American jammers. Instead, many are detonated via a wire connection, or are planted in a dirt road and act as an anti-vehicle mine. Some actually are anti-vehicle mines, left over from the war with the Russians two decades ago. But most are homemade anti-vehicle mines. These have one major shortcoming, and that is their inability to tell Western troops from civilians, or even Taliban or al Qaeda. As a result, the casualty rate in Afghanistan is even lower than it was in Iraq. In both places, IEDs were a losers weapon.

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J3       8/19/2008 6:31:07 AM
The IED issue got so much ink because of the military bureacracy's outrageous delay in getting defenses to and protection them to the troops.  That delay is the real sad story here;  that once again the military people in Washington during wartime failed in their primary mission which is to make sure that the troops have what they need ASAP.  
 
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Whispering_Death       8/19/2008 8:59:14 AM
I agree with J3.  The story of the IED isn't a story of the mainstream media overhyping a threat.  The story of the IED is a story of a Washington procurement system too enamored with DDG-1000s, Littoral Combat Ships, Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles, F/A-22s, etc. to be bothered with taking precious hours of their day to concern themselves with something so crude as a roadside bomb.
 
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Old Grunt    ...and the DMV is worthless too!!   8/19/2008 1:30:37 PM
No one here in the building delayed anything with regard to IED's.
You want to blame someone, blame yourselves for continually putting do-nothing, obstructionist politicians back into office time and again.
We don't control our own budgets; OSD doesn't control our budgets; OMB doesn't control our budgets; Congress controls our budgets.  When you have the Kennedy's, the Kerry's, the Murtha's, the Clinton's, the Pelosei's playing "Tit-for-Tat" with the dollars it's hard to get them where they're actually needed rather than someplace that will ensure the re-election or political "promotion" of these worthless individuals. 
Neither of you have the slightest clue of how many projects, programs, and systems have been curtailed, postponed, or canceled in order to make sure that the IED Taskforce, now the Asymmetric Warfare Group, had the resources it needed in terms of money and talent to successfully meet and defeat the threat.  Oh yeah, we are sooooo enamored with getting the big, sexy toys!!  So much so that for the last 4.5 years we've been routing $3.5 Billion each from the Navy and USAF to the Army to deal with the IED problem. 
Who do you think works here?  The vast majority of the personnel here have multiple combat tours in either the current of past combat theaters.  It is routine for the "Green Suiters" and DA Civilians to consistently put in 12 to 18 hour days.  Is there any additional compensation for doing so?? Nope, we do it because we understand that what we do here effects soldiers on the battlefield.  It's all you private sector slugs that are leaving as soon as you are able.  Stand by any of the Pentagon exits starting at 3PM and you'll see wave upon wave of "Pink Badgers" sprinting for transportation.  Don't make the mistake of trying to get one to stay a little longer to finish a tasking or meet a short suspense, you'll just end up getting the  "No Pay, No Play" lecture.
 
You people disgust me. 
 
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jak267       8/19/2008 2:03:44 PM
IEDs are a weapon that would never be used if it were not for the News Media and Liberal "Pro-Terrorism" politics.
 
There are 4,000 American dead and tens of thousand crippled because of the enemies here - not the ones planting the IEDs there.
 
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Ayatollah Ghilmeini    Ahem! Terrain   8/19/2008 2:22:34 PM
The key difference between Vietnam and Iraq is the geography.
 
Flat open desert is the hardest place to fight; without air cover, forget it. Factor in jungle, snakes and bugs, Iraq offers only the concealment of hiding among your own people. Finally, North Vietnam was excluded, for the most part, from US attack. While Iranian backed Shia special groups do crisscross the border with Iran, there is no refuge for al Qaeda.
 
Instead of fighting for folks who did not want us, we are fighting for people who we delivered from Saddam and want us to finish the job. 
 
This is not a knock on our Vietnam era troops but the politicians and public that would not let them win.
 

 
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doggtag       8/19/2008 2:36:30 PM

No one here in the building delayed anything with regard to IED's.

You want to blame someone, blame yourselves for continually putting do-nothing, obstructionist politicians back into office time and again.

.....

It isn't so much we willingly put people in office who are inept.
It's that the majority of the people we put in office either reneg on their campaign promises that got them elected in the first place,
or they get distracted by the special interest groups and PACs once they get in there,
or forget altogether what they initially promised when the earmarks, pork, and other perks that come with the job start flowing uncontrolled,
unmonitored,
and the system of checks and balances has fallen into disarray because whistleblowers are chastised
by the system because "no one likes a tattle tale",
even if it's the people getting all accusatory at the whistleblowers in the first place are the ones who are really responsible for the iniquities, deficiencies, and shortcomings that infect the US political system.
 
No seriously, it's too bad we aren't actually holding our elected officials at their word (campaign promises).
Follow around the campaigning politician of your choice,
record every campaign lie promise they make to their voting constituents,
then watch their career once they get in office and see how soon they deliver on all those promises of jobs and cutting corruption in the system and looking out for what's in America's best interests.
Then fire the ones who aren't measuring up to what they promised.
 
Every elected official is to blame, regardless of how insignificant their position may seem compared to others.
You want to be a part of the ruling political system,
then you should be held accountable for your actions while in office, and be fired when you aren't keeping the promises you made to your voters.
No, I don't mean come next election. I mean your constituents be given the power of removing you when you don't measure up, at any point during your political term.
 
First course of action: every politician has a mandatory website or other easily-perused medium that lists each and every bill and vote from whichever government office they serve in,
and why they voted yea or nay for it,
and how much pork and how many earmarks and riders were tacked on,
by whom,
and to who it all went to.
(and no, blogs based off the personal ideas of umpteen million pundits, paiges, and other political propagandists won't be considered legitimate sources, either!)
 
My guess is, it'll shorten a lot of careers when more Americans become more knowledgeable about just what exactly their politicians are doing.
 
OldGrunt, it isn't wholly the fault of the DoD who's to blame, but those who do ultimately sign off on procurement deals are part of the problem.
Yes, we can only buy the military tools and materiel that we have money alloted for, and Congress approves of,
but there are far too many gold-plated projects (gilded in pork, other earmarks, and who knows what other money shifting hands) that are signed off on by not the elected officials the American public put in office, but by the men and women those elected officials appointed within the DoD's heirarchy to do that job.
 
When the appointee fudges a contract buy (for whatever reason), it'll fall back on the politician's neck being on the public chopping block.
That then might encourage the elected politicians to listen to reasonable officers pleading their cases, rather than being bullsh*tted and wowed by the corporation-favoring cronies trying to push the products of the contractor offering them hinting at post-retirement employment opportunities.
 
Hey, I'm just winging it here.
Anyone else is more than welcome to come up with additional suggestions as to how to restore checks and balances to the system,
guarantee that weapons contracts go to the most capable and cost effective systems without undo excess expenses being allowed in when the contractors can't keep their estimates in check (guess they better start estimating more reasonably),
and overall start eliminating a lot of the corruption
 
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Yimmy       8/19/2008 3:46:48 PM


No seriously, it's too bad we aren't actually holding our elected officials at their word (campaign promises).

Follow around the campaigning politician of your choice,

record every campaign lie promise they make to their voting constituents,

then watch their career once they get in office and see how soon they deliver on all those promises of jobs and cutting corruption in the system and looking out for what's in America's best interests.

Then fire the ones who aren't measuring up to what they promised.

 

Every elected official is to blame, regardless of how insignificant their position may seem compared to others.

You want to be a part of the ruling political system,

then you should be held accountable for your actions while in office, and be fired when you aren't keeping the promises you made to your voters.

No, I don't mean come next election. I mean your constituents be given the power of removing you when you don't measure up, at any point during your political term.

 
America does have some good elements to its model for democracy - states such as California have a fair amount of "direct democracy", whereby candidates can be kicked out of office early by popular consent.  I believe that is a roundabout way of how Arnie got into office (because his predecessor was kicked out, opening up opportune elections).
 
I'm no expert at American democracy of course, but last year I had a politics module taught by an American.
 
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sjdoc    It ain't necessarily so...   8/19/2008 7:35:22 PM
--
There's a dangerous distraction in the constant repetition of an out-of-focus stereotype to the effect that:
 
"Arabs are lousy fighters."
 
From a historical perspective, it's not a uniform or reliable phenomenon; there have been plenty of situations in which the wogs (not just the Arabs, but the ragheads of the Middle East in general) have proven fractious, persistent, and troublesome in the extreme.  Get out your Ouija board and play twenty questions with the ghosts of Marcus Licinius Crassus and Publius Licinius Valerianus. Then get into a real-life conversation with some of the old Russian officers who were involved in combat operations in Afghanistan between '78 and '89. 
 
Calling them "lousy fighters" can cause one to underestimate their venomously pernicious potential, both as enemies and as (however transient) co-belligerants.
 
What the Arabs (and their brethren in Islam) don't do well is make good soldiers, which is a distinctly different failing.
 
I suspect that this is intrinsic to the culture - emphatically including the religion itself.  Absent the sort of Aufklarung (the Age of Enlightenment) experienced by the West from the 17th through the 18th Centuries, the Islamic world in general and the Arabs in particular are permanently crippled by psycho-epistemological dysfunctions that prevent them from ever developing the sort of "culture of trust" required to turn barbarians - "fighters" - into people capable of waging and winning wars.
 
Soldiers.
 
Judged by Western post-Enlightenment standards of sociopolitical and technical capability, the Islamic world is about as militarily significant as a pack of rabid dogs.  Still damned dangerous in their way, but subjects for Animal Control measures, not the attention of the State Department.
 
Until they can be persuaded to abandon Islam in much the same way that the West had abandoned Christianity, the Arabs are going to be barbarians. 
 
They may be camel jockeys driving Eagles and Typhoons, but they're camel jockeys nonetheless.
 
--
 
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Gerry    Old Grunt   8/19/2008 9:01:52 PM
I never worked there, however have always suspected there was a lot of undeserved criticizm. Yes, there is no doubt in my military mind that much of the blame for faulty, over paid, over due, and unneeded programs are due to the whims of politicians whose primary interest is being reelected. The same ones who have not so much as one word of support  for the military when the boom is lowered.
 
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davod    Whistleblowers   8/20/2008 2:56:32 PM
Don't get  ratbags who go to the press mixed up with real whistleblowers.
 
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