Murphy's Law: America Believes IEDs Have A Future

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January 11, 2014:   Since September 11, 2001 two-thirds of the Americans killed in combat were the victims of roadside bombs and (much less often) mines. This was a big shift from the American experience in Vietnam, where 14 percent of American deaths were from bombs and mines. While that meant twice as many Americans killed by bombs and mines during Vietnam (55,000 dead) compared to Iraq and Afghanistan (6,700 dead), the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) became the most successful weapon the enemy had against American troops. In response the U.S. formed JIEDDO (Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization), a $25 billion dollar effort to deal with roadside bombs. Because of the fear that IEDs will continue to be a major threat (because all the other battlefield dangers have been made so much less dangerous) the U.S. is keeping JIEDDO going, although cutting staff and funding by about two-thirds.

It was in Iraq that the U.S. first mobilized JIEDDO to deal with IEDs, and even before JIEDDO showed up in 2006 that paid off. New technology (MRAPS, jammers, robots), tactics (predictive analysis and such), equipment (better armor for vehicles and troops) and a lot of determination did the job. Gradually, IEDs became less dangerous. In 2006, it took about five IEDs to cause one coalition casualty (11 percent of them fatal) in Iraq. By 2008 it took nine IEDs per casualty (12 percent fatal). The MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) was a major factor as these armored trucks were designed to neutralize the effects of an explosion and they were very effective at that.

The U.S. Army applied the same aggressive approach to IEDs in Afghanistan and the Taliban had a hard time adjusting to it. One of the bolder American tactics is to aggressively fight the bombers for control of key roads. This means that the army engineers are out on heavily mined roads every day in their specially equipped MRAPs, looking for IEDs to clear. It also means UAVs often patrol the road at night, using their night vision cams to spot Taliban teams burying a roadside bomb. This usually ends badly for the Taliban, as the UAV fires a Hellfire missile, or a nearby helicopter gunship comes over to kill the team. Sometimes there is a nearby rapid reaction team, that goes out and kills or, more importantly, captures members of the team. Dead or alive, the Taliban caught in these situations are valuable sources of information. And information is one thing that is being fought over. U.S. counter-IED tactics concentrate on discovering who is organizing the IED effort, and then going after the key members of that organization. This is done using a combination of powerful computer software, and traditional detective and military intelligence methods.

Take out the leaders and technical specialists (bomb builders) and the IED effort in the immediate area collapses. That worked in Iraq, and it worked in Afghanistan. These battles tend not to get covered much in the media, but there were many epic struggles in Iraq, which all ended up in the IED gangs going down. It takes time, but the pressure causes the gangs to spend less time concealing IEDS, and building smaller or less reliable ones. As more key people are lost, the IEDs efforts gets sloppy, and the Taliban losses accelerate.

 

 


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