In Afghan war, US scrambles to fight crude but lethal IED

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by jumpinjarhead, Nov 2, 2009.

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  1. In Afghan war, US scrambles to fight crude but lethal IED


    US Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers patrol as a controlled detonation explodes in the distance …
    by Dan De Luce Dan De Luce – Sun Nov 1, 5:34 pm ET

    WASHINGTON (AFP) – The world's most powerful military machine is scrambling to fight a simple, low-tech weapon in Afghanistan that is killing and maiming American and allied soldiers at an alarming rate.

    The homemade bomb -- often a mixture of fertilizer, fuel and metal -- is the number one killer of NATO troops in Afghanistan and the US military has launched a massive, costly effort to try to defeat it.

    In Iraq, the Americans eventually managed to contain the scourge partly by employing jamming devices and large numbers of unmanned aircraft that could watch for insurgents planting roadside bombs.

    But the rudimentary improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan have no radio frequency to jam while the country's vast, rural landscape makes surveillance a daunting task, US officers said.

    "You've got an entirely different challenge in Afghanistan," said General Thomas Metz, head of the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).

    "It looks about like the moon sometimes. It's huge, open spaces. Not much vegetation. It's an unbelievable, tough, rugged terrain," he told reporters after a congressional hearing.

    American soldiers learned to identify suspicious objects on paved streets in Iraq, but NATO forces in Afghanistan have trouble picking out trip wire or booby traps on dirt roads, said Command Master Sergeant Todd Burnett of JIEDDO, who regularly visits troops on the Afghan front.

    Soldiers who only recently arrived in Afghanistan are still trying to figure out how to handle the IED threat there, he said.

    "For so long we've been focused on Iraq," he said. "We're still learning the environment over there... We're playing catch-up."

    And unlike Iraq, where much of the insurgent activity was concentrated in city centers, the bombs are spread over an enormous area, he said.

    The threat has steadily mounted in Afghanistan, with more than 1,000 IEDs found or exploded in August -- a dramatic increase from just a year ago.

    But the scale of the threat is still much lower than what US and Baghdad forces faced at the height of violence in Iraq, when the number of IED incidents rose to about 2,500 a month.

    General Metz, charged with leading the effort against the homemade bombs, said eliminating IEDs is unrealistic, but he talks about the need to get "left of the boom" -- by detecting the bomb before it goes off and targeting the bomb-making networks.

    His organization, set up initially in 2006 to tackle the scourge in Iraq, invested close to a billion dollars over the past year in technology, training and other initiatives to battle the homemade bombs.

    Metz said he hopes sensors and software can be refined soon to detect small changes on the ground, revealing where an insurgent may have dug up a road or set down a trip wire.

    But he said the "game-changing" technology is still not there.

    "We're left with some real tough physics problems," he said, as the sensor has to deliver reliable information soon enough to allow a vehicle speeding down the road to stop before reaching the bomb.

    To protect troops, the Pentagon is rushing the production of new armored vehicles for Afghanistan as a version designed for Iraq has proved too bulky for the country's treacherous terrain.

    Seven of the new MATVs have been delivered and the Pentagon has approved plans to quickly produce more to ship to the war.

    While President Barack Obama weighs a request for a major troop buildup, Defense Secretary Robert Gates already has deployed nearly 3,000 forces who are trained in explosive disposal, intelligence and route clearance to contain the IED threat.

    Commanders are working to shift much of the coveted unmanned aircraft fleet from Iraq to Afghanistan to spy on insurgents planting bombs, and the military has bought new, smaller robots that can help soldiers dismantle explosives in a more rugged setting.

    In the meantime, the IEDs are wreaking havoc, killing and badly wounding Western troops and Afghans while piling pressure on the NATO-led mission.

    With the carnage from the bombs undermining public support for the war on both sides of the Atlantic, some lawmakers in Congress say the military has to move faster.

    The Pentagon has promised anti-IED programs will produce results "soon" but the death toll keeps rising, said Representative Duncan Hunter at a congressional hearing on Thursday.

    "We've been... told that since I got into office in January. 'It's going to be there soon, sir. It's going to be there soon,'" said Hunter, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq.

    "It isn't there now. And we're losing guys every day. So what are we going to do tomorrow to defeat IEDs so that we don't have any more IED deaths?"
  2. Bomb expert who saved 'countless lives' killed in Afghanistan
    One of the Army’s most prolific bomb disposal experts who saved “countless lives” has been killed on the last day of his operational tour, the Ministry of Defence has disclosed.

    By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
    Published: 2:00PM GMT 02 Nov 2009

    Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid of the Royal Logistics Corps Photo: PA
    Despite “staring death in the face on a daily basis” Staff Sgt Olaf “Oz” Schmid continued to defuse bombs in Sangin, the most lethal town for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in Helmand province.
    The soldier, described as a man of “extreme courage”, was killed instantly as he attempted to make safe a bomb left in the town.

    He is the third IED Disposal soldier to be killed in the last year as the Taliban increase their bombing campaign against the British force.
  3. Awful news--RIP.
  4. I really have no words at all to describe the unimaginable, down-to-the-line, totally spine-chilling courage displayed by EOD experts on an everyday basis and day after day, week after week and month after month. These expert folks knowingly play a truly deadly game of chess with their (equally knowledgeable) counterparts, knowing full well that a wrong move could, in the truest sense of the word, mean their utter destruction.

    You have to be a very special, I mean a very, very special and totally unique person to accept that impossibly daunting challenge. Every one of them should be awarded every bravery award possible. Nuff sedd!

    My very deepest condolences indeed to the relatives and friends of S/Sgt Olaf Schmid. He truly was a most remarkable hero among heroes. RIP S/Sgt Schmid. You went above and beyond.

  5. Without in any way minimizing the very real heroism of these people by reference to fiction, I commend the old series Danger UXB for portraying the absolutley nerve wracking and harrowing work involved. I still get nauseous when watching some of the scenes.
  6. Word of warning Jumpin, you are straying into a veritable minefield here (pun not intended)

    Danger UXB was about RE Bomb Disposal whereas the fine SSgt Schmid was an RLC Ammunition Technician. A debate and argument for another day!
  7. I cannot point was not the units but the indviduals and those shaky fingers trying to handle those evil German fuses in extreme close-up--I am sweating now just thinking of it.

    Anyway, I don't want to diminish from the rightfully somber tone of this thread.
  8. Killed on the last day of his tour, the Gods were having a laugh there then.

    Condolences to his Mrs and Kids, R.I.P
  9. Anyone, who goes up against a home made bomb or a factory made one, to try and stop it doing what its made for, be it WWII or any time after, has my utmost respect.

    Soldiers arent all gung-ho and run at the enemy types, some do the other roles which include this very significant role, and put themselves in, in my opinion, a 50/50 chance of survival against god knows what.

    So all credit where it is due, and RIP those who cut the wrong wire, or whatever it is (sorry) it takes a hell of a lot of balls to even contemplate doing that as a job, full stop.
  10. All dues there, fella, but take it as aye. Your man Jumpinghjarhead is a genuine Vietnam vet, he's proved his worth as a sensible and eminently articulate person and as such has no keen at all to launch a srobe. He's actually agreeing with you! Give him the benefit of the doubt now! He knows what he's talking about.

    Don't seek arg where there's none, my friend. We may all need each other at some time.

    Just a thought.

  11. Just watched C4 news about this brave, brave lad, how many men are alive who would otherwise be dead or crippled because of him and the likes of him.

    A tragic loss but he leaves behind a greater legacy than most men.

  12. Well said!