Relentless toll to US troops of roadside bombs: The IED has caused over a third of the 3,000 American GI deaths in Iraq.
By Brad Knickerbocker | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Almost every day, Sgt. First Class Joel Jacobs comes to the Third Infantry Division’s “Warriors’ Walk” at Fort Stewart, Ga. Among the eastern redbud trees – each commemorating one of the more than 300 division soldiers killed in Iraq – it’s a chance for him to honor his fallen comrades.
Like many, Sergeant Jacobs greets the news of American casualties with sorrow and resolve. He retired from the Army a few months ago, and you might think the prosthetic leg would slow him down. But asked how he’s doing, this 21-year veteran who faced danger in Haiti, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq says , “I’m absolutely fine, sir.”
“When you come home, you remember the ultimate sacrifices some of your fellow soldiers have made,” he says of his regular walk.
Of the 3,000 American GIs lost in Iraq as of midday Sunday, more have been killed by roadside bombs – improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – than any other cause. More than by rifle fire, mortar attack, or car bomb.
It’s a danger that has bedeviled Pentagon war planners for months, one to which they’ve responded with a high-level task force headed by a retired four-star general, $6.7 billion in research and development, new high-tech equipment and vehicles, and – perhaps most important – intelligence efforts to get inside the decisionmaking of an insurgency that is sophisticated, if largely low-tech.
If anything, the danger is increasing despite efforts to counter it.
IEDs are “the enemy’s most effective weapon,” Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of all US forces in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services committee last March. “They are the perfect asymmetric weapon – cheap, effective, and anonymous.”
Improvised bomb attacks on US troops now top 1,000 a month, four times the rate in 2004. Insurgents have become more sophisticated in their bombmaking, placement, and means of detonation. The British military has determined that there are enough stocks of illegal explosives to continue the same level of attack for years without resupply, reports DefenseNews.com.
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IEDs: The Lazy Man’s Insurgency
By Gary Brecher ( email@example.com )
It’s time to take another look at Iraq, because there’s been a big change in insurgent tactics in 2005. That’s inevitable. War makes people on both sides think faster. Peacetime armies never learn anything; wartime armies learn new tricks faster than a hungry raccoon.
The big change is that the insurgents have decided to rely on IEDs rather than ambushes with shoulder-fired weapons to kill the two or three GIs per day they figure they need to wear down the US public’s will to stay in the fight. And it’s working, way too well.
The stats are clear: IED victims make up a bigger chunk of our casualties every month. Over the last six months, IEDs have caused 63% of US combat deaths. Last month (October 2005) was typical: out of 96 US troops killed, IEDs were responsible for 57.
Compare that with April 2004, a terrible month when we lost 140 troops. Back then the insurgents relied on RPGs and small arms. Only 19 of our 140 KIA that month-barely more than a tenth-were killed by IEDs.
The insurgents have decided to do it the easy way. As long as they can use IEDs, their low-tech standoff weapon, why should they risk close combat?
The real question is why they can get away with it. And here-well, I hate to keep saying this, but somebody needs to. The reason they can do it is because we still have NO INTEL on them. It’s the biggest failure of the war, and nobody talks about it. CI warfare is about people, not hardware. We’re all hardware and no intelligence, like a Tim Allen show. Makes me sick.
That makes the decision to go with IEDs a no-brainer for the insurgents. In the standard ambush, the kind we were facing a year ago, the insurgents detonated an IED under a convoy, then opened up on the stalled survivors with RPG and small arms fire. It probably made them feel good, sort of their version of shock and awe, but the rifle fire was ineffective and by concentrating their forces, the insurgents made themselves vulnerable to our air power.
The problem in any guerrilla battle is the getaway. Anybody can pull a trigger; the trick is getting your men home safe, while enemy choppers zoom through the sky and every street is full of troops and armor looking for men of military age. That’s the tough part.
An IED ambush has none of those risks. Only one man needs to be on the spot-the triggerman. He detonates the IED from a car parked down a side street and drives away before the occupiers can even start their search. No risk. No casualties. Very demoralizing for the occupiers, especially since they know damn well that everybody in the neighborhood was in on the attack but they can’t level the locals’ shacks like they’re dying to.
What makes this wave of IEDs worse is that the devices are getting more effective. Frankly I’ve been shocked at how good the Iraqis are with these things right from the start. I mean, after that shameful performance in GW I, did you expect these bastards to be so sneaky, patient, and smart? I knew this war was a bad idea, but even I never realized what we’d be up against.
The scariest tech development of all is that the insurgents have learned how to make shaped-charged IEDs. To understand why shaped charges are such a powerful weapon, we have to go into the incredibly cool world of explosive physics. I love this stuff. I mean, what red-blooded American boy didn’t experiment with explosives? The only reason I ever opened my Chem book was to see if it mentioned TNT or dynamite in the index. (It didn’t-goddamn hippie teachers.) And naturally I used the local wildlife, like toads and bees, in my experiments with the killing power of firecrackers.
Read it here.