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IED’s – U.S. soldiers’ worst enemy

It happens without warning ‘“ one minute you’re driving along doing your job and the next minute, BOOM! Some soldiers live to tell the tale. Some soldiers, well’¦ Improvised explosive devices or IEDs are the most dangerous threat faced by U.S. servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, more soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have died as a result of IEDs in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars than all other combat-related causes combined. So serious is the threat that all service members newly arriving in theater are told during an in-processing brief that ‘if you’re going to get killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, you will most likely be killed by an IED.’ But what exactly are IEDs, how do they work, and why are they so deadly? To fully understand the nature of IEDs, one must first understand something about the people who use them. Insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting what they refer to as a jihad or ‘holy war.’ Though the battlefields are found in Iraq and Afghanistan, not all insurgents are native Iraqis or Afghanis. Many insurgents infiltrate the battle space from other parts of the Middle East ‘“ Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Pakistan. Others travel from countries much further away such as Chechnya and even Malaysia. Nevertheless, regardless of their origins, the goal of all the insurgents is the same ‘“ kill as many Americans and other coalition force members as possible while driving the rest from the Middle East. However, the destruction of the Iraqi Army in the Gulf War in 1991, the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 and the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003 has taught the insurgents they are no match against U.S. and coalition forces in a conventional war. Therefore, they’ve adjusted their strategy to one of attrition and sustained low-intensity conflict ‘“ in other words, guerilla warfare. Guerilla warfare is a tactic that has been commonly employed by weaker forces against more powerful forces since time immemorial. For instance, though Native Americans occasionally engaged U.S. forces in major battles such as the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn, their most common tactic by far was the hit-and-run raid, a staple of the guerilla repertoire. Due to the high mobility of U.S. forces (made possible through the use of various armored vehicles known as HUMMVs, MRAPs, Huskies and Buffaloes and various types of helicopters such as the UH-60 BlackHawk, AH-64 Apache and the UH-47 Chinook) and the lethality of precision-guided munitions launched from U.S. Air Force and Navy high performance aircraft, insurgents have attempted to limit their exposure to U.S. forces by adopting a tactic whereby they fight in absentia ‘“ that is, they let IEDs do the fighting for them. For an insurgent to successfully employ an IED, the device must first be assembled, then placed in an appropriate location and, finally, detonated at the proper instant when vehicles are in the kill zone. Careful coordination is required and the insurgent often demonstrates significant creativity and vigilance in a successful detonation. Improvised explosive devices come in a multitude of configurations, shapes and sizes. However, the basic components remain fairly consistent ‘“ an explosive charge, an initiator or detonator and a power source. The explosive charge is commonly C4 (often referred to as plastic explosive) or artillery rounds often scavenged from previous wars and stockpiled for later use. In the case of C4, the detonator, sometimes called a blasting cap, is inserted into one end of the Play-Doh-like explosive material which usually comes in the shape of a block or brick. The detonator is then wired to a power source such as a flashlight battery, car battery or even a cell phone. When artillery rounds are utilized, a small hole is drilled in the side of the casing and the detonator inserted into the explosive charge inside. After the IED is assembled, it must be placed in a strategic location, most commonly a roadside in an area known to be traveled by U.S. or coalition forces. Placement can be simple and quick or more sophisticated and time consuming. Sometimes, insurgents simply lay the device beside the road and cover it with loose gravel or trash. If they have more time, they will often bury it in a shallow roadside depression, being careful to avoid leaving a noticeable mound. They’ve even been known to cut open dead animals lying on the side of the road and place the IED inside. This tends to work better if the animal has been dead for several days and been previously observed by U.S. forces ‘“ the idea being that the soldiers have become accustomed to the presence of the carcass and therefore less suspicious. If the road is dirt or gravel, the bomb may be buried in the road itself. IEDs have also been placed in culverts, beneath overpasses and even positioned behind guardrails. The next step is often the most challenging ‘“ detonating the device at the exact instant when a U.S. or coalition vehicle is in the kill zone. This can be accomplished in several ways. A command-detonated IED may be wired to a cell phone which is attached to the device itself. When vehicles are in the kill zone, the insurgent calls the cell phone number from another cell phone and the device is detonated. A command-wire IED, or CWIED, is usually wired to a power source which is in direct possession of the insurgent who controls the circuit. At the proper instant, the insurgent completes the circuit, usually by connecting a loose wire to the power source, and the device is detonated. These devices actually require the insurgent to be present and observing vehicle movement. They hide at some distance, detonate the device, then make their escape through pre-planned routes. For added safety, insurgents can avoid being anywhere near the device when it detonates by using a pressure-plate design, referred to as a PPIED. The pressure plate usually consists of two strips of metal separated by springs. The plates are wired to the explosive charge and to a power source then buried in the road in direct line of vehicle travel. As a vehicle tire rolls over the plates, the weight of the vehicle compresses the springs. When the plates touch, the circuit is completed and the explosives, which are either buried beneath the plates or beside the road, detonate. Another technique once common in Iraq and recently becoming more common in Afghanistan is the suicide bomber. The two most common suicide bombing techniques are person-borne or PBIED and vehicle-borne or VBIED. In a PBIED, the insurgent usually dons a vest made of a mixture of explosives and pieces of metal such as ball-bearings or nails which act as shrapnel during the explosion, thus enhancing the potential lethality of the blast. The insurgent typically approaches a crowded area on foot and self-detonates using what is often referred to as a ‘clicker’ held in one hand. Most suicide bombers are willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of martyrdom, believing they will receive preferential treatment in the afterlife. However, not all suicide bombers possess the same level of conviction. Those less inclined to kill themselves often decide not to complete their mission. Recently, to avoid this contingency, it has become common practice to wire the bomber with a remote detonator, referred to as a ‘fail-safe’ detonator. The suicide bomber is then accompanied to the scene by an observer who activates the remote detonator if the suicide bomber gets a case of cold feet. Most suicide bombers are men. However, some bombers have been known to be women and, though less common, children, unaware of what is going to happen to them have occasionally been used. In a VBIED attack, a car or truck is loaded with explosives, commonly multiple artillery rounds wired together, and driven into a strategic target, often a crowded market, a police or military checkpoint or the main entrance to a military compound. In addition to the explosive charges, an accelerant is often added to enhance the killing power of the blast. Typical accelerants include five gallon cans of gasoline or propane tanks. The detonating charges cause the accelerant itself to explode resulting in the generation of a larger fireball, more heat and a greater blast effect. The use of IEDs often entails a division of labor ‘“ some insurgents specialize in the manufacture of IEDs while others prefer to place the devices or act as observers. Often, those placing the IEDs lack the sophistication necessary to properly handle these devices resulting in an accidental detonation and the death of the insurgent. In many instances, those placing IEDs are paid by others for their work. However, to receive payment, the emplacer must often remain behind to videotape the detonation to prove his success. Many insurgents have been captured in possession of videotapes in which they appear placing IEDs and later discussing the detonation. Such tapes are utilized during the prosecution of these insurgents. Iraq and Afghanistan are indeed dangerous places, as the tragic death in early June of three Georgia Guardsmen from the 48th Brigade near Kapisa, Afghanistan, attests. These dangers come in many forms, not the least of which is improvised explosive devices. US and coalition forces have made great progress in the detection and neutralization of IEDs in recent months and the introduction of heavily armored vehicles designed to resist blast effects has contributed to the reduction of lives lost due to these dangerous devices. Nevertheless, in spite of recent progress in the war against the insurgents, IEDs remain U.S. soldiers’ worst enemy. ———————————————- Article submitted by Spencer Price

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