Anatomy of an IED

Discussion in 'The Intelligence Cell' started by tomahawk6, Aug 12, 2005.

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  1. Good read found this week in my armytimes.

    August 15, 2005

    Anatomy of an IED
    Lack of hierarchy makes bombers hard to stop

    By Greg Grant
    Special to the Times

    On an average day, there are 40 IED “events” in Iraq — improvised explosive devices that either explode or are disarmed. So far in 2005, 213 American troops have been killed by IEDs.

    U.S. intelligence officials are only now beginning to understand how insurgent cells operate.

    “The enemy is evolving and constantly innovating. If there were any thoughts that this is a rudimentary, unsophisticated enemy, those thoughts have been replaced,” Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel said earlier this summer at the Lexington Institute in Washington. Votel is director of the Army’s IED Defeat Task Force.

    The following revealing picture of how these cells operate and why they remain difficult to penetrate comes from extensive interviews with military intelligence officers with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, briefing documents, and interviews and presentations at an Army-sponsored counter IED conference at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

    Much of what U.S. officials know about IED cells is gathered through interrogation of captured Iraqi insurgents.

    Counterinsurgency forces have long studied the pyramidal model of enemy forces — strong leadership at the top and the group expanding in size at each lower level, to the foot soldiers at the bottom. That type of guerrilla organization was highly vulnerable to a decapitation strike that would often lead to its collapse.

    But the groups in Iraq have no hierarchical structure, the officers said. Vast numbers of small, adaptive insurgent cells operate independently without central guidance. There may be some loose coordination of attacks, but then the cells go their separate ways.

    This highly decentralized characteristic of the IED cells makes them nearly impossible to penetrate. Their small size allows them to focus on specific American units, learn their tactics, patrol schedules, transportation routes and readily adapt to counter-IED techniques.

    Taking down the foot soldiers causes a temporary disruption, as new people must be recruited. But even then, the cell is disrupted only for two weeks or so. The only way to get rid of the cell is to target the whole group — and there are a lot of cells.

    Small, highly skilled IED cells often operate as a package and hire themselves out to the more well-known insurgent groups, such as Abu Mosab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq or the Sunni group Ansaar al Sunna. They advertise their skills on the Internet and are temporarily contracted on a per-job basis, but otherwise remain autonomous. This more linear, rather than pyramidal structure, means a decapitation operation is not an option.

    One U.S. intelligence officer said that if you capture the leader of an IED cell, the leaderless foot soldiers simply get rolled up into another cell or start their own splinter cell. By cutting off the heads, you don’t fix the problem — other heads emerge.

    The IED cells are patient and methodical and they follow an identifiable operational cycle. Five days are usually spent conducting reconnaissance of prospective targets, conducting pattern analysis of U.S. patrols and looking for vulnerabilities. The insurgents try to discover why and at what times American patrols travel along specific routes. Insurgents have even used hoax IEDs placed in plain view so they can watch the American response and gather intelligence on security methods and bomb disposal team operations to prepare for future attacks.

    Picking a target

    IED target selection is done with the intent of maximizing casualties and media exposure. Favorite targets include convoys of civilian SUVs, as they believe these transport American government officials and intelligence agents. They also target fuel tankers, as the flames and billowing smoke from a burning fuel tanker makes for compelling television footage.

    The target site must also have multiple escape routes.

    Bomb components are assembled at a well-concealed bomb factory and then moved from any area likely to be searched by American patrols to a holding area until the weapon is placed. IEDs are often kept in what the military calls “rolling weapons caches,” cars with false bottoms or trunks loaded with explosives that blend into the thousands of vehicles on Iraq’s crowded city streets.

    Five days of preparation are then followed by 10 days of heavy IED attacks, then the cycle starts again.

    After a successful attack or if a device is detected by a U.S. patrol, the IED cell evaluates the results and adjusts its tactics accordingly for the next strike.

    Nine times out of 10, the military and intelligence officers said, the insurgents videotape IED attacks. The insurgents scrutinize the tapes — much as a coach watches post-game films — to prepare for future attacks. They’re also used as motivational tools for new recruits and to advertise a cell’s technical proficiency.

    The organization

    While all IED cells in Iraq are not alike, they tend to follow a similar organizational pattern. They are almost exclusively made up of Sunni extremists. The typical IED cell numbers no more than six to eight people who collect intelligence on American forces, gather explosive materials, manufacture the bomb, place the device, carry out the attack and then evaluate the results.

    At the top of the IED cell is the planner or financier, a “money man” who is most often a well-educated and intelligent former Ba’ath government official or military officer. He is ideologically motivated in his fight against the American occupation.

    These “white collar” leaders are the most difficult cell members to identify. Even if fingered by an informant or other means, the leaders are so good at covering their tracks it’s nearly impossible to develop sufficient evidence to detain them. And if captured, they’re not likely to say anything. Only 5 percent to 10 percent of the insurgents captured by the Americans are cell leaders.

    Below the financier is the bomb maker. He also is typically ideologically motivated, a former regime member or Sunni Arab angered at the American occupation. As with the financier, American officers said, the only way of getting the bomb makers to stop the attacks is by capturing or killing them.

    Initially, IEDs were constructed by former Iraqi Republican Guard or Special Republican Guard soldiers. That skill has spread throughout the country over the past two years. According to Army intelligence officers, outside expertise also has come into the country, both from Hezbollah, which has extensive bomb-making expertise, and from Iranian intelligence. Bomb-making skills proliferate rapidly among IED cells in Iraq via the Internet, used by insurgents to share skills.

    The insurgents’ technical proficiency has increased with experience. In recent months, shaped-charge explosives have become more common, Votel said. Also called platter charges, these devices combine an explosive charge with a low-melting-point metal such as copper that is shaped in a concave way. When the blast occurs, it shapes the metal into a molten slug that can penetrate the heaviest armor.

    That technical expertise wasn’t in Iraq when the insurgency began and is suspected as having come in from Iran, said Lt. Col. Shawn Weed, an intelligence officer with 3rd ID.

    The military has found no appreciable decrease in IED attacks when a bomb maker is killed, and it represents at best a temporary setback for the insurgency as that talent is easily replaced.

    The next person in the cell is the “emplacer.” This person usually has some military expertise and is skilled at moving unnoticed into and out of an area while transporting an IED. Most IEDs are the wired 155mm shells that can weigh 100 pounds. Moving these objects around unseen and placing them along high-trafficked roads takes experience and daring, as the emplacer knows if he’s spotted placing an IED he’ll be killed. He is familiar with American patrolling tactics and techniques and is often supported by lookouts armed with cell phones who will tip him when a patrol nears.

    The emplacer’s primary motivation is money. He is a foot soldier and is often paid as little as $50 dollars and told to place an IED in a specific location at a specific time. A common technique is to pull a car over to the side of the road to change a tire or appear as if it’s broken down. He places the IED — 75 percent of IEDs are placed in a hole previously used for the same purpose — covers it up with something, turns the switch on and drives away.

    Other times, these emplacers don’t even stop their vehicles to set up an IED. Some cars have a hole cut in the floor so they only have to slow down and drop the device onto the road.

    Of all the members of the IED cell, the emplacer’s skills are the most difficult to replace. When an emplacer is taken out, an IED cell’s activity is at least temporarily disrupted as a replacement is sought.

    The next person in the cell is the triggerman, the one who lies in wait until an American convoy passes. Often in a car, the triggerman detonates the IED either by remote trigger or command wire. Remote detonation is the preferred means as it allows the insurgent to be farther away from the blast.

    Captured triggermen said they prefer to hit the second vehicle in a patrol. The first vehicle passes the IED, and they time it, then they hit the second vehicle.

    Like the emplacer, the triggerman’s primary motivation is money. Sometimes these lower-level operatives will hire themselves out as a two-man team, changing affiliations based on money.

    Suicide bombers

    Suicide car bomb cells are similar in structure, although the bomb maker’s technical expertise is usually greater as the triggering often requires engineering skills. Car bombs are assembled in a factory assembly-line-like process that begins usually in small towns south of Baghdad. There, a vehicle is modified in an auto chop shop, with space cleared inside the vehicle to fit explosives, suspensions strengthened to carry the additional weight and windows blackened.

    As the vehicle is driven north to Baghdad, where most car bombs are detonated, additional components are added. This decentralized construction process makes it more difficult for American intelligence to identify a car bomb factory and eliminate it.

    Intelligence gathered from a captured would-be suicide car bomber, who was a member of Zarqawi’s group, provided U.S. officials with the best insight into the inner workings of a suicide car bombing cell. The cell is kept small and focused, and contact with insurgents outside the suicide group is strictly controlled. Suicide bombers are selected on a first-come basis, with no shortage of recruits. The bombers are most often foreigners and enter Iraq from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait with the specific intention of martyrdom. The only training they receive is the target information and instruction on how to trigger the device.

    The first transports the bomber to the location of a pre-positioned car bomb and then follows behind to guide the bomber along the route and videotape the attack.

    The captured car bomber said it would be easy to drive around Baghdad and pick out up to 20 soft targets. Two vehicles are commonly used.

    Greg Grant covers the Army for Defense News.
  2. Why this sudden burst of pseudo "accademic analysis" .... I thought you were all supposed to be looking for WMDs ready for use within 45 minutes?
  3. Interesting:

    this kinda cuts the Israeli strategy down to size.
    They were working on a smaller population where they'd much greater control over movement.

    According to this, the entire system is distributed, leaderless and self sustainable: Like the Internet.

    The Internet used design principles optimised for survival in face of nuclear holocast. Its role is to conduct information dispite any area being disrupted. It achieves this by using short electical pulse using binary code. The only way of stopping it was to target the power supplies: and hopeing to cause a critical crash.

    The Insugency network evolved into the same design for the same reason: To survive. It's role is to condut an insurgeny, it achieves this by using paid volunteers to create IED's and attacks. All it needs is a steady supply of cash.

    If money is the motivator for the footsoldiers, and they need the money to care for their clan, then pay the sheik money for the clan, get them hooked on the securty, and then remove the security in retailiation for the attack.

    Like getting a druggie hooked and then using the withdrawel to get him to obey.

    Just an idea, it take the counter insurgency away from the fighting a war to the hearts and minds campaign.

    And probably less expensive in the long run.
  4. A good overview and response there Bombard - not only do they require cash, and plenty of it, as the article says, they also have no end of bombers, suicide or otherwise. Am I alone in thinking that the higher echelons of the insurgency must be treating these suicide volunteers with the most appalling cynicism? They cannot possibly believe (the money men that is) in all this virgin serving sherbet nonsense? How do you cut off this sort of supply in people?
  5. I'm not sure I agree with the synopsis that the idea for the shaped charge came from Iran. Why would the Iranians get into bed with ex members of the Saddam regime, and Sunni muslims? If it was Shia muslims, that would be more understandable. I concede, however, that political allegiances have probably changed since I was there on Telic 2. If what the article says at the start of this thread is true, a lot of the new crop of suicide bombers would probably be Shia.

    In any case, the idea of the shaped charge in improvised devices has been widely circulated on the internet, and before that in subversive book shops, for years, and anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of explosives could have worked it out. PIRA used it with devastating effect in their IAAG (Improvised Anti Armour Grenade) in the late eighties; FARC and ETA are 2 other groups that are also known to have used it (Hmmm, hang on a minute, Sinn Fein have proven links to both FARC and Herri Batasuna (political wing of ETA), I don't suppose..... No, surely they wouldn't do that, would they?
  6. I'm not going into why anyone should believe anything, particularly in a religious context but I found an interesting article which suggests that the word 'virgins' is a mistranslation and that it really should read 'raisins'. Now please forgive my warped sense of humour, but I can't help but laugh at the thought of a suicide bomber sitting at the feet of Allah saying, "Raisins? F*ckin' raisins?"

    I'll get my coat ............,2763,631357,00.html
  7. Using the cultural analysis on another thread, the financiers would have been very honourable people in their clan before the war, with access to resources and a recognised position. The resources he brought to the clan disappeared, and his honor suffered equally.

    Now, he must recover his honor, and he seeks to do this by aggressive attacks and IEDs.

    As long as he conducts the attacks, he can get cash (from where? Saudi martyers?) and so honor.

    Looking at it like that, then its not ideology but resources.

    Somewhere, someone has the cash to fund the insurgency. That source has to be found, stopped and then replaced so the sunni clan leaders do not feel their honor is threatened.

    It's life, but not as we know it.
  8. The elephant in the room here is Saudi Arabia. The regime there hands out staggeringly large amounts of cash to jobless religious maniacs (sorry, the Saudi Royal family) and doesn't monitor where it ends up. The refusal of the US to get to grips with them is bizarre, to say the least. Bin Laden dropped the WTC using his own money - oil money, mostly from the US - using mostly Saudi citizens. The more money the US spends on petrol, the more money the Saudis get, the more goes to fund killing Americans.
  9. Extract from The rest of their article simply repeats the first post here.