IED Conference Looks for Solutions to Save Lives
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
HATTIESBURG, Miss., May 4, 2005 Powerful improvised explosive devices set off by cell phones, doorbells, toy remotes and tripwires are the leading cause of death among U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, commander of 1st U.S. Army, Fort Gillem, Ga., speaks to the media during a news conference May 3 at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Miss. The command sponsored a two-day conference for trainers to discuss ways to better train soldiers to react, interdict and defeat improvised explosive devices on the battlefield. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
For that reason, Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, commander of 1st U.S. Army, summoned observers and trainers from his command to Camp Shelby here for a two-day conference to discuss ways to better train soldiers to react, interdict and defeat IEDs on the battlefield.
Arriving here from his Fort Gillem headquarters in Atlanta, the general -- whose command stretches throughout 27 states east of the Mississippi River, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- has made IED training a priority for Reserve and Guard soldiers mobilizing for war.
More than 41,000 Reserve and Guard soldiers have received some level of IED training here before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There is no more important business in 1st Army and to our Army today than to continue to develop, continue to train and continue to evolve techniques to help us fight IEDs," Honore told a group of trainers during an opening briefing.
"As the enemy adapts, we need to be able to adapt. The fact that he is using IEDs is no precursor for us to quit," the general said. "We will win this fight. And for us to win, we have to be adaptable, we have to be flexible, and we have to out-think the enemy."
That is the challenge the general put forth, as trainers here try to come up with new ways to train and protect soldiers from the dangers of IEDs, while at the same time trying to outsmart what leaders here say is an "adaptive enemy."
"The enemy is constantly adapting ways of using IEDs to attack formations," the general reminded the trainers. "We've seen up to 13 ways he has created just to arm an IED -- everything from using a car remote to a cell phone, to simple tripwire." The enemy, he said, is hiding bombs inside garbage and litter, and burying them beneath the streets.
"If you see a dead dog, or if you see a dead sheep in front of a shop that you know shouldn't be there, then you know something is wrong," he said, emphasizing that the U.S. military needs to do its best to stay ahead of enemy tactics.
Today, trainers sat in on a video teleconference with 3rd Infantry Division soldiers currently in Iraq to learn about the latest on IED threats in the field.
Earlier, members of the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Task Force shared lessons learned from collaborative efforts to detect IEDs gathered from around the services. The task force, established in October 2003 and headed by Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel, works to develop countermeasures against IED attacks.
Early actions included increased body armor and up-armored and armored vehicles. But as Honore pointed out, "Getting more armor isn't always the solution. The enemy just gets bigger bombs."
Army Col. Edward Martin, deputy director of the IED task force, said the military is changing some of its tactics by targeting the bomb makers and "making it more painful for the enemy."
"If the pain is greater that the gain, the outcome is obvious," he said at a May 3 news briefing.
Being proactive, rather than reactive, is a key part of 1st Army's IED training, said Army Lt. Col. Selso Tello, chief of training.
"We are trying to be able to engage the enemy where he is placing his IEDs, and going out and hunting IED makers," he said.
But the enemy in Iraq may be changing tactics as well.
Honore said that just as the Army has been using pattern analysis to study how IED attacks are planned and implemented, the enemy too is conducting its own surveillance, studying time of day and routes of convoys, and the reaction of response units when events happen. Simply put, "As you watch the bear, the bear watches you," he said.
"As the enemy changes their tactics, techniques and procedures, we must change ours," said Army Lt. Col. Alan Hartfield, training officer for the task force.
One way the task force is doing so is by teaching trainers here a "holistic approach" to stopping IED attacks that focuses on intelligence and information operations, as well as mitigation, prediction, detection, prevention and neutralization, Hartfield said.
"It's good, solid, basic skills, with every soldier being a sensor and aware of what to be looking for so they can feed actionable intelligence to go get the bomb makers and that source of supply," he explained.
Though the conference also looked at emerging technologies as a way to defeat IEDs -- discussed behind closed doors for security reasons -- Hartfield and other leaders here said new technology is no "silver bullet."
He said the military currently has sensors and jamming devices, and is rapidly fielding other technologies.
But Tello said that just as armor isn't a 100-percent solution, neither is new technology. "Even though we have the latest technology, they are all just tools of combat," he said. "And that's the way we look at them. There is no technology today that will provide an 'absolute solution' to the problem that we have right now. It's always going to take the soldiers to be able to engage and take out and hunt down whatever it is that is facing us."
Possibly the best idea to combat the IED threat to come out of this conference requires little technology at all. Honore told trainers here he wants to incorporate a chapter on IEDs into the Common Tasks Training manuals used by every soldier in basic training.
"The biggest killer on the battlefield, and there is no task in the CTT book for the soldier," he said. "We've got to fix that."