Support: American Engineers for the Iraqi Army


November10, 2006: The Iraqi army has a severe shortage of support troops, particularly combat support. This includes combat engineers trained and equipped for clearing roadside bombs (IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.) The Iraqis do have hundreds of EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) technicians. This is because the 1980s war with Iran left a lot of unexploded bombs, shells and mines along the Iranian border, providing lots of work for EOD people. But EOD work mainly requires skilled operators, using simple tools. To deal with IEDs effectively, you need some specialized, and expensive, equipment. The U.S. Army and Marines have special armored vehicles (mainly Cougars), built to survive a nearby IED explosion, and equipped with vidcams and other sensors to find IEDs before they go off. The American EOD specialists also have robots to do the dangerous, close in work.

Since the Iraqi troops have taken over security for many of the rebellious Sunni Arab areas in the last year, American combat engineers have been assigned to go in and clear out the worst infestations of IEDs in areas controlled by Iraqi troops. The terrorists, taking advantage of the Iraqi army shortage of combat engineers, have planted thousands of IEDs. In some areas, there are 3-4 per kilometer of road. The Iraqi army simply hasn't got enough EOD teams to handle that. 

So American engineers will come in, clear out the worst infestations, then teach the Iraqi troops techniques for keeping the roads free of the bombs. This is usually something as simple as some watch towers and night vision devices. If the Iraqis man those towers 24/7, the terrorists won't be able to plant bombs.

The Americans like having some Iraqi troops going out with the engineers. The Americans know that, sometimes, the terrorists will pay civilians to sort of wander past the U.S. engineers, trying to spot techniques being used to clear the bombs. This makes it possible for the terrorists to build bombs that are more difficult to clear. But with some Iraqi troops along, these spies can not only be more readily shooed away, but sometimes identified and arrested.

Eventually, some Iraqi engineers will be equipped with the Cougars and all the high-tech (and expensive) gear that goes inside them. With this gear, roads with lots of IEDs can be cleared at a rate of 500-1,000 meters a day, with little risk of friendly casualties. Using just EOD teams, it would take as long, or longer, and you would lose people.