Tag Archives: IEDs

The Benefits of War: how to train a fighting force

Perhaps no service was jolted by 9/11 more than the US Army. It reaped the benefits of developing a new way of fighting. …”The biggest change – the Army was really not an expeditionary force,” said retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who was a top aide to Gen. David H. Petraeus during the 2007 Iraq surge….”But ever since 9/11, the U.S. Army has been nothing but expeditionary. And soldiers who have grown up in the decade since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have gone through multiple deployments and have fought two wars,” he said. “So the Army has become an organization that is stressed, yes, but has also become comfortable deploying around the world and operating overseas. I think that’s one of the big changes.”

Along the way, the Army learned a new way to fight…. The big change: The Army used to stay in operating bases, launch raids into neighborhoods to kill insurgents, then return to barracks. Under the Petraeus plan, soldiers would set up shop inside insurgent territory to conduct strikes and protect civilians.  Said Col. Mansoor: “Counterinsurgents operate best when they operate among the people; … when you disperse your forces, getting them to live among the people, you generate a lot more intelligence and you insulate the people to a certain extent from insurgent violence and intimidation.”

Before 9/11, “we weren’t really thinking insurgency warfare, guerrilla warfare, irregular warfare,” he said. “We thought that was something we could pawn off on the special-warfare community. Since 9/11, obviously the U.S. Army has had to deal with it in a very serious way. And there have been a lot of growing pains in that regard, but the capabilities have increased enormously.”

Gen. Conway said that while the Army needed a new doctrine, the Marine Corps all along had been following a “small-wars manual” that had been developed over decades.  “It was new for the Army. It wasn’t new for the Marine Corps,” Gen. Conway said. “To his credit, Petraeus was always the best Army general at incorporating the things that we believe very strongly in. But the things he sort of brought to the Army were the things that we were practicing in stride.”

The irony is both of the nation’s land forces, the Marines and Army, had to switch roles. The Army became expeditionary like the Marines and then had to learn a new style of counterinsurgency. The Marines became a second land army, setting up shop in a foreign country to fight for extended periods.  “We’ve been able to morph into a second land army because that is what the country needed,” Gen. Conway said.

Counterinsurgency involves not only combat. A major challenge has been for the military to learn how to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the chief cause of casualties in Afghanistan. The Pentagon set up a new agency just for that purpose, pumping billions of dollars into electronic jammers, surveillance equipment, aircraft, metal detectors and robots.,,When Robert M. Gates succeeded Mr. Rumsfeld as defense secretary, he learned that the Marines and Army were building a new troop carrier that could repel explosions and save lives.  But why were they not out in the field? Mr. Gates demanded to know. He ordered the services to ramp up production of the vehicle known as MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected) and sent them overseas.  Today, virtually every combat unit has MRAPs. The 9/11 attacks had led to a revolution in how troops move on the battlefield.

While 9/11 resulted in a gradual transformation for conventional forces, the al Qaeda strike brought immediate change for a backwater outfit in Tampa, Fla. – U.S. Special Operations Command (SoCom).Created to correct flaws discovered in the disastrous 1980 Desert One rescue mission in Iran, SoCom was more bureaucrat than war fighter….As the Pentagon still burned, Mr. Rumsfeld was thinking of SoCom as the leader of the war on terror. Commando units were the perfect organizations to hunt down and kill an unconventional enemy who worked out of ungoverned territory, safe houses and mountain caves. First, he awarded SoCom the prestige of being a “supported” command as opposed to its old role as a “supporting” one. This gave the SoCom commander authority to plan and execute what is called direct action combat.”…

Money started flowing to Tampa. The command brought in a whole new cadre of war planners and began enlarging all its special-operations components. And the Marine Corps for the first time joined SoCom and nurtured its own commandos.  “He gave them somewhere between $1.2 [billion] and $1.5 billion to take that headquarters and turn it into a war-fighting headquarters,” Gen. Boykin said of Mr. Rumsfeld.

The secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), home to Delta Force, had spent most of its time training for hostage rescues. Now, it and other commandos started preparing for how to find and hit an al Qaeda or Taliban hideout.  In less than two months, Army Green Berets were leading the invasion of Afghanistan, teaming up with anti-Taliban fighters in Pakistan and crossing the border via low-flying helicopters.  “It was a godsend because unconventional warfare was losing its luster,” Gen. Boykin said. “It was way down on the list of priorities. Afghanistan refocused attention on the [unconventional warfare] capabilities.”

Today, the command stands at 61,000 personnel, up from 45,600 on Sept. 11, 2001. It has added three Ranger companies, five Green Beret battalions, a special operations aviation battalion and an unmanned aerial squadron….

While the Pentagon built up SoCom, it also knew the expansion would be meaningless without intelligence on where terrorists and their leaders were located.  Mr. Rumsfeld created a new post, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, to coordinate information from the Pentagon’s various collection agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency. Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan now had a senior civilian to whom it could request intelligence assets for a particular mission.

In the field, it meant units such as the SEALs and Delta Force were fused into large task forces that included the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, a special military intelligence unit known as Task Force Orange, and the electronic eavesdropping National Security Agency.

The 2006 hunt for al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi illustrated the new alliance. The Delta task force intercepted communications that led it to a Zarqawi adviser, who in turn led it to his hide-out north of Baghdad. F-16s bombed the hut and killed one of the most ruthless al Qaeda operatives in the Middle East.

“They’ve really learned how to bring all the resources of the intelligence community into their operations to where the hard work is done really by the intelligence folks,” Gen. Boykin said.

The cost for all of this has been immense. The annual base defense budget since 2001 has nearly doubled to $570 billion. In addition, the wars themselves have cost an additional $1.3 trillion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Excerpts, from Rowan Scarborough,9/11 changed war-fighting, Sept. 8, 2011

Strykers versus IEDs, Iraq, Afghanistan

A new version of the Army’s eight-wheeled Stryker vehicle is deflecting bombs better, according to military officials, who say soldiers driving the new armored combat vehicle are walking away from large roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

The early success of the new so-called Stryker “double V hull” suggests that troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state who deploy to Afghanistan in the near future could benefit from the added protection. More than 3,200 Stryker soldiers in the base’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan this winter.  The News-Tribune reports the new Stryker vehicles have extra armor and a new design to divert an explosion’s impact away from soldiers inside. The new design includes a slanted underside instead of the traditional flat-bottom of the older models.

The new version was designed to protect soldiers from the buried bombs that have been the weapon of choice against American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan….The Army commissioned the new design from manufacturer General Dynamics last year. USA Today first reported on the new design’s success….According to Army reports, the new Stryker passed its first major test in July during an attack on a group of Alaska soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, a Stryker brigade formerly based at Lewis-McChord. The soldiers survived the kind of roadside bomb that has caused serious casualties in the past.  The July incident was compared to a 2009 attack in Afghanistan that killed seven soldiers from Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. The brigade lost 37 soldiers in the yearlong deployment. Most of the deaths were from bombings…

All totaled, the Army has ordered 450 of the vehicles.

New Stryker vehicles deflecting bombs better, Associatied Press, Aug. 28, 2011

Where Drones Cannot Reach: IEDs


Marines took over full responsibility of  the area [the remote district of Sangin in Helmand Province, in Afghanistan] in September from badly bloodied British troops who had often kept to defensive positions. The Americans have been more aggressive in their four months in Sangin, but this has resulted in heavy casualties: of at least 120 confirmed Marine deaths across the huge surrounding province since a new troop rotation in mid-April, 27 have been in this tiny corner.

That is in part because the Taliban fighters here are well trained and battle-hardened, and many American units face daily firefights. But the insurgents’ bombs have been even worse than their bullets, and every move the Marines make now must come slowly, deliberately. Clustered tightly on trails, each one taking care to step in the footprints of the man before him, the Marines squint at every bump in the dirt in case it hides an improvised explosive device [IED]The way they have been forced to adapt highlights the intense challenges that Americans face as they try to root out an enemy that knows the terrain, can find support and shelter in many villages, and is patient enough to let booby traps do most of the fighting.

“One of our sergeants turned around, he planted his foot just outside the trail and lost both legs,” said First Lt. Daric Kleppe, an officer with the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines. Standard procedure now is for the men to shuffle their feet in a small circle when they must turn — a profound and dangerous frustration for a Marine force whose fighting philosophy is based on quick maneuvering.  “All the conventional Marine Corps tactics of enveloping and closing with the enemy are impossible in this environment. Your only choice is to fight from current location due to threat of I.E.D.’s,” said Petty Officer Third Class Royce Burgess.

The Marines’ unit, Company I, has encountered as many as 15 improvised explosive devices in a day. Four months into their seven-month tour here, one of the company’s platoons has had nearly a quarter of its men either wounded or killed. The loss of limbs is so common that the men refer to “amps,” “double amps” and “triple amps” to describe their comrades’ conditions.

“This is probably the most dangerous place on earth,” said First Lt. Stephen Cooney, as he looked out over the landscape. “Or at least in Afghanistan.”  On patrol one day last week, members of the company’s First Platoon carefully made their way down the dirt paths of a village they knew only as “The Fish Tank,” a collection of mud-walled compounds just outside the perimeter of their rudimentary base in Sangin District.  They did not have to go far to find the bomb the Taliban had planted for them.

Thirty pounds of homemade explosive, enough to blow a man to pieces, lay buried along a footpath about 100 yards outside their base’s outer wire. The enemy had crept up under cover of darkness, hidden behind the low mud walls that line the landscape. Only the diligence of Lance Cpl. Luis Garcia, who spotted a small irregularity in the dirt, saved lives.  Lance Cpl. Miguel Lizarraga, using a metal detector, found a second, partly assembled I.E.D. nearby.

An explosives disposal team was called in and quickly triggered the explosives. An enormous blast shook the ground and dirt showered down on the Marines and seven Afghan soldiers accompanying them as they took cover behind a nearby wall.  The explosive was designed to be triggered by a pressure plate made of wood and plastic foam, a very common design that makes the bomb nearly invisible to metal detectors.

“The batteries are the only thing you can find, and they bury them up to 10 feet off the trail, connecting them with low-metallic speaker wire,” Sgt. Aaron Beckett said.  “The metal detectors are often useless: we call them confidence boosters,” one officer said, with a grim laugh.  Still, though it has been hard going from the very start, the Marines are making progress.  Hemmed in at nearby Forward Operating Base Jackson at the beginning of their tour, the Marines of Company I fought fierce, almost daily battles through the months of October and November.

On Dec. 6, they fought their way up Route 611, blowing up scores of I.E.D.’s along the way and taking over an abandoned and booby-trapped British Army base, Patrol Base Bariolai, on a barren hilltop here.  They sleep in the frigid cold and go weeks without showers, but they are keeping the nearby Taliban on the defensive.  The Marines can now patrol throughout the surrounding village every day, Sergeant Beckett said. And he has been encouraged by the increasing trust that local villagers are showing, sometimes offering the Marines information that has tipped them off to I.E.D.’s or potential ambushes.

As the Marines passed into a populated area on their recent patrol, some of the villagers waved and smiled. Young children gathered around as the Marines, relaxing a bit, passed out candy. The children’s presence was a sure sign that no I.E.D.’s were nearby.  But just 50 yards up the path, three men in black head wrappings sat against a wall in the distance, watching the Marines with hateful eyes.

“Those guys are definitely shady,” Lieutenant Cooney said. “You can tell after a while which ones want us here.”  Minutes later, the Marines detected warning signs along their path: uneven earth and scatterings of hay. Proceeding would very likely result in the wounding or death of a Marine. They attached an explosive charge to the wall of a compound and blasted a hole through, then took the shortcut back to their base.  As the men removed their sweat-stained gear and took long swallows of water, a few drops of rain began to fall.  “I hate it when it rains,” Cpl. David Hernandez said. “The dirt runs together. We can’t see where they’ve dug in the I.E.D.’s.”

MICHAEL KAMBER, In Afghanistan, Insurgents Let Bombs Do Fighting, NY Times, Jan. 17, 2011