Fighting a Technologically Advanced Insurgency

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

There are many differences between insurgencies in the twenty first century and those of 100, 50, 30 or even 10 years ago.  In addition to the transnational nature of the fighters, the easy and quick access to technologically advanced and standoff weapons introduces elements that makes previous centuries of counterinsurgency experience almost meaningless.  Examples of such elements are cell phones, IEDs and in particular, EFPs.  Our quarter century old enemy Iran is busy in Afghanistan as they were (and still are) in Iraq.

The comments by the commander, who would not be named but operates in the south east of the country where there has been a surge in Taliban attacks, were a rare admission of co-operation between elements within the Iranian regime and forces fighting British and American troops in Afghanistan.

“There’s a kind of landmine called a Dragon. Iran’s sending it,” he said. “It’s directional and it causes heavy casualties.

“We’re ambushing the Americans and planting roadside bombs. We never let them relax.”

The commander, a veteran of 30 years who started fighting when the Soviet Union was occupying Afghanistan, said the Dragon had revolutionised the Taliban’s ability to target Nato soldiers deployed in his area.

“If you lay an ordinary mine, it will only cause minor damage to Humvees or one of their big tanks. But if you lay a Dragon, it will destroy it completely,” he said.

A “Dragon” is the local nickname for a type of weapon known internationally as an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) or “shaped charge” and has been used with devastating effect in Iraq by Iranian-backed groups. It is shaped so that all the explosive force is concentrated in one direction – the target – rather than blasting in all directions and weakening its impact.

A former mujahideen fighter who knows the Afghan arms market well and who asked to be known as Shahir said the Dragon mines came directly from Iran.

Iran has denied these allegations, but Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador in Kabul, said the British Army, which is deployed in south-western Afghanistan, had intercepted consignments of weapons which they believe were “donated by a group within the Iranian state”.

The only other possible source, the arms expert said, would be Pakistan’s Tribal Areas where a relatively sophisticated arms industry has grown up. “Until now,” he said, “no-one in the Tribal Areas has been able to copy these mines. Both the metal and the explosives are different, very high quality and very effective, obviously not Chinese or Pakistani.”

He said there were two routes for Iranian weaponry getting to the Taliban. “There are people inside the state in Iran who donate weapons. There are also Iranian businessmen who sell them.”

The Taliban are also employing technologically advanced communications in order to avoid electronic interdiction and eavesdropping.

Taliban fighters targeting British troops in Afghanistan are using Skype voice-over-IP phones to evade detection.

Security sources have told the Evening Standard that unlike traditional mobile calls, which can be monitored by RAF Nimrod spy planes, Skype calls are heavily encrypted.

Taliban leaders had previously been known to use satellite phones, which could be tracked and located by western forces.

The British and American governments are said to be investing resources to crack voice-over-IP (VoIP) codes.

“The trouble with this technology is that it is easily available but devilishly hard to crack,” a security source told the Standard. “The technology can now be accessed on mobile internet devices and the country’s mobile phone network is expanding rapidly.”

Skype is owned by eBay and has around 300m user accounts worldwide.

Sir David Pepper, head of government listening centre GCHQ, has previously complained that internet calls are “seriously undermining” his organisation’s ability to intercept communications.

There are suggestions as to what might be effective means to stop this use of Skype.

Simple – move to compressed data on their system.

Compressed Skype calls make life a lot easier for pattern recognition software to detect key words in the digital data stream, simply because the $trings of data are shorter.

There’s been a few reports on the subject over the last few years, but Skype has avoided making any comment for fear of upsetting its users.

Now that the issue is coming into the open, however, I strongly suspect Skype won’t have much choice.

Unless, of course, it wants to see ISPs in dodgy areas of the world like Afghanistan block the use of Skype on their Internet connections, so depriving the Net telephony company of valuable call revenue…

Maybe it’s this simple – and maybe not.  Both the U.S. DoD and the British MoD should invest as necessary to stay ahead in technology.  But we must not miss the the point concerning technology.  Playing the game of one-step-ahead is a deadly and costly way to run a campaign.

The solution to the problem of Taliban technology is to conduct intelligence driven raids against the Taliban who perpetrate the use of such technology.  Rather than the so-called high value targets with recognizable names, the real high value targets are the Taliban perpetrators, the fighters, technicians and practitioners.

 But in order to conduct intelligence driven raids against such people, we first have to have intelligence.  In order to gain the proper intelligence, the population must have security.  Maj. Gen. Jeffery J. Schloesser has said that there are as many as 11,000 insurgents operating in the Eastern part of Afghanistan.  This size insurgency requires a larger projection of power by infantry to ensure the progress of the counterinsurgency campaign.  Killing and capturing Taliban will end the threat posed by EFPs and Skype.


You are currently reading "Fighting a Technologically Advanced Insurgency", entry #1297 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Taliban,Technology and was published September 15th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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