Roadside Bombs Kill Troops At Highest Rate Of Iraq War

Roadside Bombs Kill Troops At Highest Rate Of Iraq War
December 17th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Roadside Bombs Kill Troops At Highest Rate Of Iraq War

Roadside Bombs Kill Troops At Highest Rate Of Iraq War
Boston Globe
December 17, 2006
Pg. 1

By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- US troops in Iraq are dying in roadside bombings at a higher rate than any period since the war began -- some in follow-up attacks in the same locations -- but commanders still have no effective means to monitor the deadliest routes for patrols, according to Pentagon officials and documents.
Military deaths from roadside bombs have hit an all-time high in recent months: In October, 53 US troops died from improvised explosive devices, while in November, 49 troop deaths were blamed on so-called IEDs -- the second and third highest monthly tolls of the war, official statistics and casualty reports show.
That is far higher than the overall monthly average of 28 IED-related deaths since July 2003, when the data were first compiled. And in the three previous months, between 22 and 29 soldiers and Marines died from roadside bombs.
But the Pentagon office charged with solving the problem is still a step behind the bombers.
Officials at the Joint IED Defeat Organization admit that most of the billions of dollars they get each year goes to developing high-tech gear to detect or disarm bombs rather than addressing the root of the problem: finding out where the bombs come from and who is planting them.
"The enemy has the ability to freely fabricate IED and car bombs, plant and set ambushes, rocket, mortar and IED attacks, and have the recruits and resources crossing borders to reinforce and resupply the insurgent forces undetected," according to a recent briefing prepared for top Pentagon officials responsible for counter-insurgency strategy.
December is on track to become the deadliest month of all. According to news reports, 53 soldiers died as of Dec. 16; Pentagon data indicates that roughly 60 percent of all casualties this month came from roadside bombings. Throughout much of the war, IEDs have caused about half of all US combat deaths in Iraq, according to a September study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. .
That has spurred outrage among military officers, Pentagon contractors, and members of Congress. They charge that, after spending billions of taxpayer dollars to address the problem there is still virtually no solid intelligence on how the bombers operate.
Senator Gordon Smith , a Republican from Oregon who had been a longtime supporter of the Iraq war, put it bluntly in his critique of the Iraq war on the Senate floor last week:
"I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that anymore."
The Joint IED Defeat Organization, which had been hailed as the "Manhattan Project" of the roadside bomb problem, "has been a disaster," said Ed O'Connell , a counter-insurgency specialist at the government-funded Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif. , who has advised US commanders in Iraq.
For its part, the organization claims some progress. They say that the percentage of bombs that are disarmed or detonated before they can kill or maim has remained "stable and consistent" over the past 18 months, and they say there are now fewer casualties per IED attack.
The "vast majority" of IEDs are disarmed or otherwise rendered harmless, the office said in a statement.
But officials acknowledged that the number of roadside bombings has "risen dramatically over the last two years," though they would not provide statistics.
That increase has confounded the military and raised questions about whether gathering intelligence on the bombers should be the office's top priority. The Pentagon briefing paper, provided by a defense contractor to the Globe, concluded that there is "an urgent need" in both Iraq and Afghanistan for "persistent surveillance" to track the bombers and neutralize the IEDs.
Congress this fall set aside $100 million to acquire new aircraft for what the military calls "wide field of view" surveillance: watching particularly active areas and intercepting the bombers. The goal would be to make it "a suicide mission" for insurgents to plant a bomb, according to a report attached to the 2007 Defense Authorization Bill.
Cheap and lethal, roadside bombs are the tactic of choice for both Sunni and Shia Muslim insurgent groups opposed to the US military presence. Authorities believe some insurgents are getting supplies and training from Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Most of the explosives, US officials say, are assembled with munitions left over from Saddam Hussein's arsenal, while others are built from explosives smuggled across Iraq's porous borders. They are triggered by a variety of inexpensive means, including trip wires, cellphones, and household timers, and the insurgents have created increasingly sophisticated bombs to stay a step ahead of US countermeasures.
But in its detailed assessment of the Iraq war, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group concluded that, nearly four years into the war, US forces know little about insurgent operations.
And, after spending almost $2 billion this year on IED countermeasures, according to the study group, the White House "has not put forward a request to invest comparable resources in trying to understand the people who fabricate, plant and explode those devices."
For its part, the IED office told the Globe that it spends 63 percent of its budget on ways to "defeat the device," while only 30 percent goes to attacking "the network" that creates and plants the bombs. The rest of its budget is spent on new training methods for US troops operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But military specialists say that the Pentagon needs to pay more attention to dissecting the "kill chain" -- the source of the bomb components, who made the bomb, and who planted it.
"We can't even detect their explosives," said Loren Thompson , a military specialist at the Lexington Institution, an Arlington, Va., think tank that supports strong military preparedness. "We don't have the resources to police or survey every road. The IED problem is a case study of how military transformation has failed.
"It sounds like a threat where good intelligence and good surveillance would make a big difference," she said. "But we don't seem to be able to develop those things."
That lack of intelligence, however, is not only blamed on the IED office but also on commanders in the field, who some specialists say aren't forthcoming about the extent of the problem.
A previously unpublicized assessment generated by the Republican staff of the House Armed Services Committee and obtained by the Globe effectively accused the generals of hedging the truth when Congress asks what they need to protect the troops.
The 2005 congressional report said that on numerous occasions, generals assured lawmakers that they have "complete [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] coverage over the respective theater battlespace; and in effect, 'they get everything.' " That has repeatedly been proven wrong, it said.
"The assumption then has always been that the troops also 'get everything' in the way of warning and intelligence, but this has not been the case," the report said. "The fact that the enemy still has the ability to go out at night and set dozens of IEDs, mine and cut pipelines, and have hundreds of new recruits coming in to join and reinforce the insurgent forces undetected gives testament to the fact that something is gravely wrong."

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