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Defeating IEDs Demands Going After Munitions Source

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo., June 22, 2005 – "There's no silver bullet" for dealing with improvised explosive devices killing and wounding U.S. troops in Iraq, the chief of staff for the Army Engineer School here told American Forces Press Service.

And while the Defense Department is stepping up efforts to protect servicemembers from the IED threat, the best way to counter it is to go after the source, Army Lt. Col. Paul Grosskruger said.

Grosskruger outlined the far-reaching efforts under way to help deployed troops predict where IEDs might be, avoid being targeted, and destroy the bombs when they're found.

The Engineer School, as a partner in DoD's Joint IED Task Force, is working to help develop solutions to the problem and to train combat engineers in the latest removal operations.

Among new technology in use in Iraq is the Buffalo, a heavily armored truck with a hydraulic arm that enables crews to examine suspected IEDs from a safe distance; the Meerkat, a countermine vehicle; and robots equipped with cameras and mechanical hands to examine suspected IEDs.

Bomb-sniffing dogs are also putting their super-sensitive noses to the test to sniff out IEDs and even miniscule amounts of the munitions used to build them, Grosskruger said.

Yet, despite extensive efforts to help troops recognize IEDs and avoid them and to analyze trends in how terrorists are using them, these basic weapons -- often no more than an artillery shell attached to a simple triggering device -- continue to take their toll in Iraq and, more recently, in Afghanistan as well.

Larry Roberts, historian for the Army Engineer School, estimates that IEDs and their vehicle-borne counterparts have caused 70 percent of the U.S. casualties in Iraq, when factoring in troops wounded as well as killed.

One of the big problems, Grosskruger said, is that terrorists using these devices are "an adaptive enemy" that quickly counters any solution U.S. forces come up with.

Troops started identifying the devices on roadways, often tipped off by the wires used to trigger them, so the insurgents began burying the devices under trash or hiding them in dead animals' carcasses and detonating them remotely with cell phones and garage-door openers, Grosskruger explained. After the troops started using specialized equipment to probe debris for suspected IEDs, the terrorists began disguising them better: atop telephone poles or buried behind concrete abutments.

U.S. servicemembers investigate each IED they find, sending details about them up their chains of command for analysis. The terrorists took their cue and began planting two devices at each location: one to draw the troops close, then a second to attack them.

Troops up-armored their vehicles to provide better protection against IEDs, so the terrorists began using more powerful devices or turning to softer targets such as Iraqi civilians.

They also concocted mobile versions of IEDs that roam the streets on suicide bombers or embedded in vehicles in search of their targets.

The military is teaching servicemembers to confront the IED threat, taking lessons learned from Iraq and passing them on as quickly as possible to deployed units and the military schools that train them.

"We'd prefer to get IEDs intact if possible so we can analyze them," Grosskruger said. "If you take apart his weapon, you can learn something about the bomb maker who built it."

A counter-IED seminar last week at the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., brought together leaders from the military and business world to discuss IEDs, technologies to defeat them, and new ways to protect U.S. troops from them.

Group members discussed "IED defeat doctrine" being developed and currently in draft form, Grosskruger said, adding that he expects the doctrine to evolve over time. "We expect that this will be a process of continuous solution development," he said.

During the NTC seminar, Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel, director of the IED Defeat Task Force, noted that one of the biggest frustrations for U.S. troops in Iraq is the recognition that no matter how diligent they are, IEDs will continue to pose a threat.

That's largely because of the seemingly bottomless supply of munitions terrorists in Iraq have at their fingertips, Votel said, according to press reports from the conference. "This was a very militarized society with ammo plants and depots all over the country," many that weren't secured, Votel told the group.

"Forget the borders being open, it doesn't matter," he said. The enemy "has an endless supply in theater that he can tap into."

Grosskruger agreed that while it's critical to keep up with new IED practices and to use every method possible to educate troops about them and protect them, these efforts essentially boil down to "treating the symptoms."

"The solution is to find and neutralize the munitions supplies," he said. "It's to go after the supplies and the bomb makers."

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