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Iraqi IEDs As Deadly As Ever

File photo of US soldiers ridding a Baghdad street of an IED.
By Martin Sieff, UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Jan 30, 2006
The serious injury of new ABC network anchorman Bob Woodruff Sunday confirmed a grim trend we have been tracking for more than half a year in this column: The failure of U.S. coalition and allied Iraqi security forces to be able to come up with an effective counter-tactic to neutralize the effectiveness of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

There is no technological "quick fix" available to neutralize the IED threat: Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a high-tech quick fix junky par excellence during his time at the Pentagon, set up a task force to barn-storm the problem some two years ago and the Department of Defense is actively pursuing ever-increased cooperation with U.S. science and industry for new ways to counter the problem. But to this day IEDs continue to account for more than half U.S. combat casualties in Iraq.

Given the effectiveness of modern explosive devices, especially the capabilities inherent in shaped-charge technology, this should come as no surprise. There is in fact only one proven counter-tactic that could neutralize IEDs, and it is the oldest and simplest in the history of combat: it is to flood areas where such attacks are made with disproportionately large numbers of security forces on regular patrols on a 24/7 basis.

Such forces, as the British Army effectively showed in the long conflict in Northern Ireland, if concentrated in sufficient density, can continually intercept guerrilla groups transporting or placing IEDs and can rapidly inflict unacceptable rates of attrition on them.

But the U.S. Army in Iraq has never had anything like the troop numbers to maintain such a strategy even in the most limited areas. The aim of U.S. strategy over the past year and a half has been to rapidly train and deploy new Iraqi security forces in massive numbers that would indeed have the manpower to carry out such operations on a sustained basis. And in terms of the numbers of them being deployed, that goal is, theoretically, being met. This month, the Iraqi Armed Forces and National Guard fielded a combined strength of 106,800 men the total police strength was listed as 142,190 giving a combined total of 226,900 men, closed to the eventual stated goal of 272,566.

But major questions remain about the reliability and combat efficiency of these forces. Most of all, as UPI's Iraq Benchmarks column has documented week in and week out, the insurgents continue to inflict unacceptable rates of attrition on the new Iraqi forces with dozens of them, sometimes more than a hundred, being killed per week.

The insurgents therefore continue to have the tactical and morale whip-hand over the new security forces, and there is widespread concern among many U.S. military analysts that they have been able to leverage that power into massive infiltration of the new forces with access to its intelligence.

It is unlikely that the insurgents knew that Woodruff, an extremely high-profile target for them, was going to be on that patrol. But the attack that seriously injured him and his cameraman was typical of all too many that continue to be inflicted on a daily basis.

Woodruff and his cameraman Doug Vogt, were embedded with the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and were traveling in a convoy with U.S. and Iraqi troops 12 miles north of Baghdad when the device exploded. An Iraqi solder also was hurt in the attack.

The Department of Defense does not release a great deal of data on the degree to which U.S. and Coalition forces have been able to find and disarm IEDs before they explode. The Iraq Index Project run out of the Brookings Coalition think tank in Washington reports as its most up to date statistic on this that 40 percent of IEDs found and disarmed by Coalition forces for the month of April 2005. The figures given for that month and previous ones are rounded off at either 40 percent or 50 percent, indicating a significant amount of rough estimation and guesswork, and a lack of sufficient data to give more detailed numbers.

Woodruff's suffering, if it can have any upside at all, may serve to bring home to the American people the extent of the courage, education and sacrifices that their soldiers are enduring on a daily basis in Iraq. Unfortunately, any technological or tactical solution to the IED menace there appears as far off as ever.

Source: United Press International

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