Battling IEDs in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

The Marines are slogging through IED country in Southern Helmand.

This year has already become the deadliest for Western troops of the 8-year-old war, with more than 400 killed, more than in the entire period from 2001-2005. By far the deadliest weapon employed by the insurgents are homemade bombs.

The Marines, part of a force of 10,000 that Obama sent to Afghanistan earlier this year, pushed forward along a dirt road, sandwiched between two canals branching off the Helmand River and arrived at the village of Barcha to establish a base.

En route, about 24 bombs were intercepted by a team of engineers, ahead of a convoy of 25 armored vehicles and 80 men on foot, crawling at speeds averaging 200 meters (650 ft) an hour.

“It made (the Marines) move very slowly and methodically — it does nothing but slow down the operation,” said Captain Matt Martin, company commander for Golf company, one of four companies involved in the operation.

Step-by-step the team paced carefully, sweeping the dirt track with metal detectors for bombs, which they discovered in many sizes and forms.

Some were covered with pressure plates to trigger them with a wrong step; one contained 60 pounds (27 kg) of homemade ammonium oxide-based explosive bound with two mortars.

Every 45 minutes or so, a plume of dust puffed out onto the horizon, with a loud thud when the Marines fired rockets on the bombs to detonate them.

The quantity of bombs intercepted forced the convoy to stay overnight in their vehicles on the road after the first day.

By dawn the convoy started moving again in earnest as three more bombs were found and detonated. Then came the ambush — they were hit by insurgent gunfire in the late afternoon.

Marines are receiving advanced training on IEDs before deployment as reported by Tony Perry.  Battalions that go to the mountain warfare training center at Bridgeport, Calif., in the eastern Sierra are sent on a 68-mile overland convoy route to the Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. Along the route are simulated bombs and Marines playing the part of insurgents, attacking from ambush and firing AK-47s.


But the enemy goal has been accomplished, i.e., to slow the advance of U.S. forces and restrict the boundaries within which they can move.  Representative Duncan Hunter is tired of excuses and wants more eyes on the roads.  So too does Doug Grindle in a comment at the Small Wars Journal Blog.  Robert Haddick weighs in saying:

Watching for bomb-planters, avoiding unwatched roads, using helicopters, dispersing into more vehicles, and taking alternate routes across country will all help with the IED problem. But the real solution lies with offensive action against the IED networks. This will require aggressive patrolling, raiding, and the interrogation of captured suspects, actions that hopefully are not yet out of fashion.

To which Doug responds:

Regarding your 5th BCT Strykers piece:
Strykers are safer than humvees, the real alternative with limited MRAP resources, and hence not a mistake.
The reason the Strykers are getting blown up so spectacularly is because there is no regular route reconnaissance of MSRs, with sectors of the routes covered by dedicated units as was standard practice in Iraq. This is now changing slowly.
The idea that “aggressive patrolling, raiding, and the interrogation of captured suspects” is the solution is plain wrong. The best security comes from the locals themselves, specifically their cooperation with the security forces, and not from actions that will almost certainly alienate the locals from the COIN effort.

It’s simple.  Simple enough to call Robert’s counsel piffle.  Or maybe not.  Maybe there are those who know more about this issue than Doug.  The Marines still don’t have enough troops to cover the roads in Afghanistan.  Neither do the Stryker teams in Kandahar, especially if they are not conducting aggressive dismounted patrols, raiding and interrogating captured suspects.  And no, this approach is not unfashionable – or at least, it shouldn’t be.

All terrain MRAPs and additional advanced training will help.  But in the end the situation is tailor-made for guerrilla warfare.  We must man the campaign if it is to be successful.

As a (slight to moderate) change of the subject for movie aficionados, who has seen The Hurt Locker (a special feature for EOD techs)?  We need an educated reader to weigh in on this one since I haven’t seen it.

  • TSAlfabet

    As usual, the “truth” is not either-or, it is both.

    Yes, there is no denying that the most effective solution to IED’s is for the Locals to have a vested interest in the fight against the enemy and to provide the kind of intel that only the Locals can provide.

    That said, there is no denying that aggressive patrols, raids and good interrogation must follow on in conjunction with the Locals, hand in glove, so to speak. Both, not either-or.

    That said it is becoming ever clearer that until we get the Locals to buy into this fight and take their security upon themselves with an assist from us (rather than the U.S. doing everything for them), 40,000 more troops and even 80,000 more will likely not be enough to cover the amount of territory to seriously interdict the bad guys.

    I have seen “The Hurt Locker,” by the way. It is a powerful movie in a visual sense and seems to square with the accounts and videos I have seen of EOD in Iraq. I found it, however, disappointing in the overall impression it leaves of the heroism seen daily by U.S. forces in Iraq. Maybe I am just seeing an agenda based on the all the other, anti-war dreck that Hollywood has churned out the last 10 years or more.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,IEDs and was published November 10th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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