The IED war

Rick Atkinson introduces a series on the IED for the Washington Post.


Since that first fatal detonation of what is now known as an improvised explosive device, more than 81,000 IED attacks have occurred in Iraq, including 25,000 so far this year, according to U.S. military sources. The war has indeed metastasized into something "completely different," a conflict in which the roadside bomb in its many variants -- including "suicide, vehicle-borne" -- has become the signature weapon in Iraq and Afghanistan, as iconic as the machine gun in World War I or the laser-guided "smart bomb" in the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

IEDs have caused nearly two-thirds of the 3,100 American combat deaths in Iraq, and an even higher proportion of battle wounds. This year alone, through mid-July, they have also resulted in an estimated 11,000 Iraqi civilian casualties and more than 600 deaths among Iraqi security forces. To the extent that the United States is not winning militarily in Iraq, the roadside bomb, which as of yesterday had killed or wounded 21,071 Americans, is both a proximate cause and a metaphor for the miscalculation and improvisation that have characterized the war.


In 2003, almost every IED caused at least one coalition casualty. Now, Pentagon figures indicate, it takes four of the bombs to generate a single casualty. In addition to more aggressive attacks against IED networks, rather than simply defending against the device, various technological advances have shaped the battlefield.

There is much more and this just introduces the first part of a multi chapter story. The last quoted paragraph is buried near the end of the introduction, but it is needed to put the threat in perspective. What it means is that three quarters of the enemy attempts are failing because we are getting better and discovering them and disarming the. That means he has to go ever greater efforts to have an effect. He is having to work harder as his forces are attrited.

On the main supply routes his success rate is even smaller. Patrols by troops and Predator UAV are in many cases killing the IED teams as they attempt to plant their device. It is when the troops leave the main roads that they become more vulnerable. Also the new neighborhood programs with high foot patrols are also less vulnerable. They have the added benefit of generating intelligence on where to find the bomb factories and the caches. The number of caches found and destroyed has gone up dramatically during the surge.

The Israelis beat the IEDs by concentrating on the bomb builders and targeting them. As the surge goes forward we should get more evidence against the bombers further reducing their effectiveness.


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