Intelligence: Kafir Magic


November 19, 2007: U.S. casualties in Iraq are a third of what they were earlier in the year. One obvious reason is the sharp reduction (over 70 percent) in the use of roadside bombs. A less obvious reason is the increased use of explosion resistant trucks (MRAPs or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected). Over 1,000 of these vehicles will be in Iraq by the end of the year. There are already over two thousand MRAPs in use, mainly by bomb disposal troops, and units operating in areas almost certain to have lots of roadside bombs. People in these vehicles are much less likely to be killed or injured if they encounter a roadside bomb. Thus if all the troops who encountered these bombs were in a MRAP vehicles, casualties would be about 65 percent less. Over the past year, nearly two-thirds of all casualties in Iraq are from roadside bombs. Thus the army and marines want to use these vehicles in areas most likely to have bombs, and reduce overall casualties by about a third.

Thus the combination of fewer roadside bombs and more MRAPs produces a sharp reduction in casualties. The bomb resistant vehicles cost about five times more than armored hummers. The extra money buys more metal, and technology. In part, MRAPs depend on sheer heft to protect their passengers. An armored hummer weighs about four tons, while the average MRAPs are 16-19 tons. The V shaped underbody of the MRAP deflects the force of an explosion. The pressurized passenger cabin also keeps out blast effect, as well as a lot of the noise.

But there's another reason for the lower casualties, one you rarely hear about. It's all about intelligence analysis. It works like this. Analysts constantly examine casualty and IED (improvised explosive device, the milspeak for roadside bombs) patterns to insure that the MRAPs are assigned to units most likely to suffer bomb attacks. This makes it easier to put the right drivers through a week or two of training with the MRAPs, which handle differently than any other vehicle the military uses. It also makes sure that more IEDs encounter MRAPs, rather than more vulnerable vehicles.

The intelligence analysts have played a largely unheralded role in keeping casualties down. The army doesn't like to publicize what their geeks are doing, but those databases and analysis systems produce more than impressive 3-D graphics of who is doing what in the combat zone. These systems have been very accurate at predicting where the enemy will strike next, who the enemy is, where they live and what shape their morale and combat capability is. These predictive systems make sure that the limited supply of MRAPs are used in areas where there are the most IEDs. Captured terrorists are perplexed at how the Americans manage to be one jump ahead. Most attribute it to some kind of "kafir (non-Moslem) magic." It certainly can't be "God's will." Iraqis are more inclined to believe in magic, than people in the West. But there are Islamic radicals on the many pro-terrorist message boards, who have advanced degrees in math and statistics, that know quite well what the Americans are doing. So far, these savants have not been able to convince their fellow radicals of the importance of trying to spoof the Americans predictive tools. Spoofing isn't easy, and you need a skilled and disciplined force of troops to carry it off. The terrorists have neither. Setting off roadside or suicide bombs remains the favorite terrorist weapon, even as these tools become less and less effective.

As long as the U.S. has the intelligence advantage, the enemy will continue to find themselves outmaneuvered and out of luck.




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