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Anatomy of an IED

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.
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?

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.


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?
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?
Zofo said:
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?
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 ............

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.
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.
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.
Extract from strategypage.com. The rest of their article simply repeats the first post here.

strategypage.com said:
The bomb makers are contracted to build a certain number of bombs and have them ready for pick up by the emplacers on a certain day. The trigger teams are either already in place, or arrive shortly after, the emplacers successfully plant their bombs. Most of the bombs are discovered and destroyed by the police or troops. Increasingly, the trigger teams are discovered, and attacked, as well. This is where a lot of bomb team members are captured. These men often provide information on other members of the team, which results in more arrests. Thousands of men, involved with these IED gangs, have been killed or captured in the last two years. There are always plenty of new people willing to have a go at it. The main reason is money. With over 20 percent unemployment nationwide, and even higher rates in Sunni Arab areas (because the terrorism there has reduced economic activity), an opportunity to make a months pay for a few hours, or days, work, is worth the risk. For the more senior members of the gangs, there is another reason. These guys worked for Saddam, have blood on their hands, and are known to the Kurds and Shia Arabs they terrorized for years. They can either flee Iraq, and risk getting picked up eventually for their crimes, or stay in Iraq, and hope that their IED efforts put Sunni Arabs back into power before the police, or vengeful kin of their victims, catch up with them.

Saddam’s henchmen got away with hundreds of millions of dollars in cash. We know this, because that much was seized by coalition troops as they overran Iraq in 2003. The current IED campaign is costing the terrorists one or two million dollars a month. Nearly a hundred IED and car bomb factories have been captured so far, and often large quantities of cash are seized. The IED campaign is driven by the cash, all the bombs, explosives and shells Saddam had stored all over the country, and Sunni Arab fear of being brought to justice.

A small percentage (less than 20 percent) of the terrorist attacks are by al Qaeda, which has a different agenda than the Sunni Arabs. These differences (al Qaeda wants an Islamic dictatorship, Saddam’s buddies want a Sunni Arab secular dictatorship) have been put aside, as both groups try to get the foreign troops out of Iraq.

Al Qaeda prefers to use car bombs. This is because al Qaeda has a big supply of Sunni Arab volunteers from neighboring countries. Many of these volunteers are worthless, as they have no training, and some of them are deranged. But some of these men are capable of driving a suicide car bomb, used as trigger teams. The car bombs are produced in auto repair shops, where cars have seats, and other components removed so that the explosives can be installed. Better suspensions are often installed so that the vehicle will not be so obviously overloaded, and be easier to drive. Building a car bomb costs more than an IED, but al Qaeda saves money by using volunteers for other jobs, besides drivers. The emplacers will drive another car, behind the suicide bomber, radioing the suicide bomber instructions, and sometimes setting off the explosives themselves. Suicide bombers often have second thoughts when it comes to doing the deed. The emplacers prevent this any way they can. The emplacer car will often have a cameraman, taping the operation. These vids turn up a lot on pro-terrorist web sites.

There is no terrorist high command for the IED effort. All of the gangs are independent, and many of the teams within the gangs are independent as well. What drives the operation is money, a desire to regain control of the country, and fear of punishment for past crimes. The ongoing political negotiations between the Shia Arab, Sunni Arab and Kurd leaders, has dealt with the subject of amnesty for Saddams most notorious thugs. The victims (or their surviving kin) are reluctant to let the current bunch of terrorists off scot free, but are willing to negotiate over the issue. The more blood people have shed, the harder it is to get an amnesty deal. The terrorists currently in the game are taking a big gamble, that they will either see Sunni Arabs back in power, or that they will evade punishment once the police gain control over the entire country.

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