With the Marines working to make Afghanistan their fight, Afghanistan was bound to find its way onto the USNI blog. From USA Today comes a report that Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are getting more lethal and more frequent:

“Last year, 3,276 IEDs detonated or were detected before blowing up in Afghanistan, a 45 percent increase compared with 2007. The number of troops in the US-led coalition killed by bombs more than doubled in 2008 from 75 to 161. The Pentagon data did not break down the casualties by nationality. Roadside bombs in Afghanistan wounded an additional 722 coalition troops last year, setting another record.”

The anti-IED fight in Afghanistan is far more complex than the largely flat-land mine-like anti-IED struggles in Iraq. Rather than come from below, IEDs can come from the side-slopes, even from above. After spending billions to build vehicles able to withstand blasts from below, are we gonna need to re-orient and cover the vulnerability of, say, a blast from the side? What about an IED-induced landslide? What vehicle foils gravity–or, to be precise, IEDs aimed at collapsing the road-bed rather than penetrating armor? Making matters worse, we’re starting to discover our countermeasures–built to confront the Iraqi IED threat–aren’t up to the complex task ahead, too. The USA Today article continues:

“Devices useful in Iraq to counter roadside bombs may have to be “ruggedized” to work in parts of Afghanistan, Navy Capt. Vincent Martinez, deputy commander of Task Force Paladin, said in an interview at Bagram Air Base last month.”

“Ruggedized” is putting it mildly. How much Iraqi anti-IED work has been done in the snow? Mark my words, the IED fight in Afghanistan is going to be far harder than the work in Iraq. What was a solution in Anbar may not translate to Kandahar. Here’s a photo sampler, from ruswar.com.


Posted by Defense Springboard in Marine Corps

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  • Byron

    The best defense against IEDs is intel and good relations with the locals (like giving the sheiks “little blue pills). That’s proactive defense as opposed to reactive.

  • The best defense we found out in MND-N was trend analysis. They like to re-use blast seats, when it is cold outside the command wire IED’s dropped in use and landmines increased. We have the RF side down but when the Army started tracking landmines as IED’s I was floored. Basically we have not been very good at preventative measures only reactive measures (adaptive TTP’s).

  • I’ve spent a fair amount of time operating in Afghanistan and I believe we have good technology that will need to be modified to suit the environment — and it will be modified. I have faith in American engineering ingenuity to do so. I know where we were in 2001 and where we are now — and we’re significantly better at the technical aspect of countering IEDs.

    Part of the reason that Afghanistan has been, and will probably continue to be, a somewhat less lethal environment for IEDs was that there has been no significant enemy-captured stores of large (155mm, 120mm) artillery rounds as there was in Iraq. The invasion of Iraq was characterized by the semi-organized seizure of a very, very large amount of conventional explosives -particularly artillery projectiles- that were successfully used to manufacture large IEDs. IED attacks in Iraq have normally been characterized by a large explosive charge whereas Afghani attacks have normally been less lethal – a disabling charge or a small charge targeting thin-skinned vehicles – followed by small arms fire and RPG fire.

    My main concern would be the influx of EFPs from Iran as Iran has dealt a significant blow to Afghanistan through soft power exerted through the Dari-speaking, Tehran-oriented Afghans of western Afghanistan. The Iranin ‘hearts and minds’ campaign has been far more successful than the ISAF/NATO-led efforts in the western part of the country. The primary way to mitigate the EFPs will be to continue to pressure Iran to cease support to militants while simultaneously reassuring Iran, through concrete steps, that we’re not using Afghanistan as a stepping stone as an invasion into Iran, and that we’ll support a political and economic relationship between Iran and Afghanistan (which is also key to the development of the Afghan economy). The secondary way to mitigate materiel support from Iran will be to target their supporters and middle-men in Afghanistan without remorse or political side-stepping.

    By the way – Kandahar is probably the most similar environment to a lot of areas of central Iraq. If you want a nightmare for IEDs and ambushes (as well as to see the limits of the Soviet and American advance), check out the Gowardesh Valley on Google. From having been there, this is one of the more nerve-racking areas to go and conduct operations. If you’re truly interested in why this will be a difficult fight (from the perspective of tactically countering IEDs and ambushes), I recommend reading some articles online about Gowardesh Valley and Nuristan.

  • Additionally, for some perspective, I recommend reviewing the brief documentary regarding one reporter’s trip to a Pakistan arms bazaar near the Khyber Pass. While I don’t concur with all of his views, the documentary is eye-opening for folks that haven’t seriously thought about what it takes to operate in eastern Afghanistan and the types of challenges we’re facing.


  • Nice post Flashman…but, just for the sake of argument, let’s just posit that some of the RDX, HMX and PETN misplaced during the “untidy” stage of our early Iraq occupation is, ah, portable…

  • Oh…I’m sure we’ll see some proliferation of tactics as well as explosive materiel, but I’m still anticipating more of what we’ve seen: EFPs and low-yield IEDs mixed with small arms fire. I just don’t anticipate dealing with the thousands of misplaced artillery shells that really encouraged the high-yield IED construction in Iraq. I’ve come close to being blown up in both places…I just know it takes more for the Afghans to pull off a major IED.

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