Admiring the enemy's work

There is always something to be said about a dispassionate analysis of how one's enemy works. It is the beginning of respect - a vital quality if one is to defeat one's enemy.

John Ward Anderson, Steve Fainaru and Jonathan Finer from The Washington Post have written an article that describes the growing technological prowess that Iraqi insurgents are using against US forces - specifically the use of IEDs: Improvised Explosive Devices. Here's some quotes from the article in question:

It took about 18 months from the start of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq to reach 1,000 U.S. deaths; it took less than 13 months to reach 1,000 more. A major reason for the surge, statistics show, is the insurgency's embrace of IEDs, together with the military's inability to detect them.

"It's the dreaded IED that's killing our soldiers," said Michael White, the creator of http://icasualties.org , a Web site that tracks U.S. military casualties. "I read in the paper that we have some new device to detect them, or we're taking extra care to make sure we don't get hit, and death after death keeps coming in, and it's IEDs."

In the first six months of battle in Iraq, only 11 soldiers -- about 4 percent of the 289 who died -- were killed by homemade roadside bombs. In the last six months, at least 214 service members have been killed by IEDs, or 63 percent of the 339 combat-related deaths and 53 percent of the 400 U.S. fatalities, according to data complied by the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index.


"Right now they're probably four times more powerful than when we first got here," 1st Sgt. Stanley Clinton said, referring to the bombs. Clinton, 53, has been deployed for the past year in Kirkuk for Alpha Company of the 2nd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team.

Clinton said that when the 116th combat team, an Idaho Army National Guard unit, arrived last December, the insurgents employed "backwoodsy stuff" -- often tiny bombs fashioned from items as basic as Coca-Cola cans. Now, he said, they often consist of one or more 120- or 155-mm artillery rounds, 15 or 20 pounds of rocket propellant or shaped charges that concentrate the blast and punch through armor plating.

"Clearly we are not winning the competition over tactics and counter-tactics," said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst who heads Brookings' Iraq Index. "The insurgency's ability to hide IEDs better, detonate them more remotely and build them more powerfully has been at least as effective as our improvements in better armor and better tactics."

In some instances, insurgents have constructed IEDs powerful enough to kill soldiers inside 22-ton Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which are more heavily armored than Humvees.


In July, a Humvee belonging to Alpha Company was out on patrol in Kirkuk when it was hit by a bomb equipped with a shaped charge, said Capt. Paul White, 39, the company commander. The explosion drilled a hole the size of a softball in the driver's door, he said. The red-hot shrapnel severed the driver's legs while the Humvee was still moving.

"He probably would have bled out except the shaped charge made [the metal] so hot it actually cauterized his legs as it cut his legs off," White said.

When a soldier yelled to stop the vehicle, White said the driver replied: "I can't stop. I don't have any legs."

"He literally said that," White recalled, adding that the Humvee came to a halt only after it rammed into a store.


Earlier in the war, "We had an enemy who we could see," said Sgt. Brian Zamiska, 27, of Bentleyville, Pa., tapping the hood of a black Opel sedan as the patrol passed it. "We didn't have to worry about looking at every cardboard box in the road or every car like this and wondering if it was going to blow up."

His platoon mate, Lt. Lennie Fort, 30, of Clarksville, Tenn., said this style of warfare was frustrating.

"There's no one to shoot back [at], no one to kill," he said. "Honestly, it just gets us amped up to go out and get someone, but there's never anyone to get."

"Now they get a hose and they lay it across the road, and when you drive across it, it ignites the IED," said Clinton, the Alpha Company sergeant in Kirkuk. "You know years ago, when you had service stations where you'd drive across the rubber hose and it would go, 'ding, ding, ding'? Here you drive across a little hose and it sends water back into a little bottle with wires sitting there. When water goes back into the bottle, it connects wires, and off goes the IED. It's just so simple and so stupid."
One of the stories I keep hearing about the differences between Australian and American soldiers in the Vietnam war was that the Americans tended to go on patrol in the jungle along well-defined tracks and essentially made the enemy come to them. The Australians tended to patrol off the tracks and set up ambushes for enemy troops who might come along.

I don't know if that story is true - however, from the descriptions given by the soldiers in the article, it is obvious that a different doctrine of battle is needed. The Iraqi insurgents are brave and innovative and have adapted their battle doctrine. The result is that, despite the heavier-armoured Humvees, more US soldiers are dying.

My solution to the whole Iraq problem still stands - US forces withdraw and are replaced by twice as many UN forces, made up of troops from countries that were opposed to the war in the first place.

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