900 IED Attacks a Month in Iraq and Afghanistan: Metz

900 IED Attacks a Month in Iraq and Afghanistan: Metz

For those who thought the insurgents in Iraq defeated and the war over, well, not so fast, according to the head of the U.S. counter IED effort, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz. While bomb attacks in Iraq have steadily declined from a monthly peak of 2,800 in early 2007, insurgents still plant around 400 improvised bombs every month, comparable to early 2004 levels. The vast majority of those are found before they detonate or they do and don’t harm anybody.

IEDs are the insurgent weapon of choice both in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, and enemy fighters emplace around 900 bombs every month. The Taliban are planting more IEDs as they have caught on to the fact, as insurgents in Iraq did, that it’s far easier to attack from a distance than go head-to-head with American armor and firepower where chances of survival are pretty low.

IEDs are the enemy’s indirect fire, a low-tech way to place ordinance precisely on target, usually directly beneath the thinly armored floor of American vehicles. One troubling statistic: there are 400 IED incidents every month in places other than Iraq and Afghanistan.


Metz runs the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, funded to the tune of $4 billion a year to train troops to spot IEDs, conduct forensic analysis of homemade bombs and field thousands of radio frequency jammers. JIEDDO has come under almost constant fire since its creation in 2004 for failing to come up with a solution to IEDs. As former director Montgomery Meigs said, that’s like criticizing somebody for failing to develop a solution for bullets. Defeating IEDs is a tough “physics” problem, Metz said.

When the U.S. began placing radio frequency jammers on its vehicles in Iraq to interrupt triggering signals, the insurgents opted for a low-tech response and started hard wiring the triggers to the bombs. Spotting a thin electrical wire on a cluttered city street is nearly impossible, Metz said.

Investigators from the House Armed Services Committee looked at metrics JIEDDO uses to demonstrate success and found: “It is impossible to demonstrate which of the specific initiatives and programs supported by JIEDDO are effective and to what degree.” Metz’s response is that American fatalities and injuries due to IED attacks have dropped dramatically from the height of the insurgent bombing campaign. Despite placing over 400 bombs across Iraq in October, only two Americans were killed from IED attacks that month.

Metz says the drop in casualties is due to an aggressive human intelligence campaign targeting insurgent bomb makers and networks. Fielding the MRAP vehicles has also reduced casualties as the heavy armored vehicle is able to absorb blast damage better than the lighter Humvees that were often thrown about by under-belly blasts. Another explanation is that American troops with repeated tours in Iraq have become much better at spotting the devices. As a former Israeli special ops soldier told me, the Israeli Army runs into IEDs all the time in the occupied Palestinian territories, they’ve just become very experienced over the years at spotting the devices. As Metz said, the best sensor to spot IEDs is the human eyeball.

He said the bomb networks in Afghanistan are very similar in structure to those in Iraq with quite a bit of sharing of know-how between fighters who challenge American troops. Afghanistan doesn’t have the robust cell phone network found Iraq, so triggering the bombs and communications between insurgents is different. But Taliban insurgents have the huge advantage of a safe haven just across the border in Pakistan, something Iraqi insurgents never had. Troops there must also contend with a limited and mostly unpaved road network and mountainous terrain that hinders line of sight.

A few months back, military and Bush administration officials were talking non-stop about Iranian agents supplying insurgents in Iraq with the deadly explosively formed penetrator type bombs. Now, apparently they’ve stopped. Metz says they see maybe 12 to 20 EFPs a month now in Iraq versus 60 to 80 from last year. At one point, EFPs accounted for only 5 percent of total IEDs in Iraq but caused 35 percent of all American casualties. “We must assume that somebody has made the decision on the Shia side with connections to Iran to bring [EFP attacks] down,” Metz said, although he acknowledged they have no evidence to support Iranian strategic direction.

Another possible explanation is that the Iranians were never supplying EFPs in the numbers originally claimed by the military. Most EFPs now found in Iraq are local builds, Metz said. If the EFP networks were a local phenomenon, with the dramatic drop in insurgent attacks across the board in Iraq one would also expect EFP attacks to drop. Two intelligence and bomb disposal teams are operating in Iraq, under an initiative called “Fox,” dedicated specifically to tracking down EFP bomb cells, Metz said.

Metz said funding for JIEDD is being transitioned from the emergency supplementals to the base budget.

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Metrics rely on something fundamentally flawed… statistics.

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

There is a famous statistic about Afghanistan: 60% of Afghans live within 50 kms of the ring road. Another semi-famous statistic: repaving Hwy 1 between Kabul and Kandahar cut the travel time in half. That stat coupled with the population stat indicates an intersection of tactical, logistical, humanitarian, and strategic goals.

The problem is there are many culverts running under Hwy 1 and bridges the Taliban has been taking out. Daily googling of Afghanistan news revealed that the IED task force is creating a trap door like device to prevent the Taliban from exploiting these culverts. There is some of that IED money well spent.

Then it turns out that there are already many tethered aerostats and elevating towers in places around Afghanistan…but they tend to be larger aerostats at larger FOBs.

Then I learned that the Canadian lost two armored vehicles (what kind?) and 3 soldiers in each in December to two IEDs within a kilometer of each other only 14 kms from Kandahar. If we can’t keep the area near Kandahar clear, how do we sweep the 300 miles of highway 1 between Kabul and Kandahar?

Is it better to patrol maybe once a day over longer routes and accompany large convoys when the enemy has time to sabotage the remaining 20 hours? Or is better to maintain full time dispersed surveillance of the same routes to safeguard the local population and necessary convoys and commercial traffic?

With 3 battalions guarding Hwy 1, with 30 combat outposts, METT-TC dependent, you could expect them to be about 10 miles apart over the 300 mile distance from Kabul to Kandahar.

Now say you put a platoon plus at each combat outpost so that you can use 2 “squads” (not all infantry) for day and 2 for night operations…augmented by Afghan National Army and National Police. So say you deploy 1 armored vehicle 3 miles/5 kms and a few trucks on either side of the combat outpost every day all day long. And maybe you put that new 15,000 lb air conditioned armored building adjacent to each armored vehicle to allow crew rotation (using either a Chinook or HEMMT LHS flat rack)with that tethered aerostat.

This would result in having good guys every 5 kms/3 miles who can both use the aerostat and Class I UAVs, and unattended ground sensors, and small unmanned ground vehicle OPs, and NLOS-LS missiles and mortars within range, and vehicle sensors to keep an eye on nearly every inch of Hwy 1 day and night. Perhaps we buy towers equipped with .50 cal from the Israelis (that they use to monitor Gaza) and place them near some wadis and blind spots that are near the 30 combat outposts covering 300 miles of highway 1.

So guess I don’t understand why we don’t put capable armor (too include Bradley and Stryker)in Afghanistan at least in the flatlands? You say it is because of logistics? The dispersed vehicles are only traveling 6 miles round trip a day to and from their surveillance observation posts along with Afghan Police or ANA trucks, and that is a route they will learn/know well.

If you build a central airfield south of Ghazni and put combined arms aviation battalion with AH-64D, UH-60, and CH-47, supported by C-130, C-17, and C-27J, you now free more supplies flown into Kandahar and Bagram to better support areas to Kandahar’s west (Helmand) and Bagram’s east (Khyber pass) using both ground convoys and other Army aviation lift assets.

You also put supply and transport companies at that central Ghazni airfield and now you are traveling only 85 miles southwest/northeast of the center airfield (and toward the east/west)with those vehicle convoys using Air Force flown supplies versus 300 miles from Kabul to Kandahar. That shorter 85 miles also better supports Army aircraft aerial resupply carrying external loads straight to the 30 combat outposts.

Now with highway 1 secured, commerce picks up. You use the helicopters bringing a 500 gallon fuel drums to combat outposts once a week to also bring water and grain for locals near the combat outposts. Much of Afghan income is based on animal husbandry so maybe we reward towns that do not side with the Taliban and report IEDs by bringing them water buckets of water for both the residents and their animals, and provide security for building projects in their towns.

One of the reasons I really like the Airbus KC-30 would be its ability to carry well over 200,000 lbs of useable fuel or lots of pallets to Bagram and Kandahar and any future conflict site. The C-17 has a center wing tank and can carry pallets with fuel drums, as well, or wet wing defuel at shorter fields. In either case we are talking 30,000 gallons per flight.

With Pakistan routes drying up and Iran out of the question, the northern “stan” countries and cooperating Pakistan air force bases are close enough to allow aerial resupply of fuel in greater quantities versus using the same fuel to keep fighters continuously aloft. What happened to the old zulu alert?

Zulu alert=Quick reaction force. Keep more fighters and Apaches on the ground on strip alert with a full fuel tank and use more KC-135 fuel tankers to airland supplies for ground forces. Use Army Sky Warriors and Shadows, and Air Force Reapers to patrol Hwy 1 and use less fuel.

Cole — looks like you got it figured. Why don’t you contact DOD about this instead of publishing it all over the unternet for the Hajis to find?

Just what we don’t need. If I didn’t think it was good, I wouldn’t be lambasting you.

We should have death penalties for that kind of scum that attacks us ‚or own cvilians and incite anarcie! They are cowards watching from a distance with their IEDs hang them all!!

Well there fighting a war as well. We just need to convince them that there wrong! good luck. Either way Iraq had many of the problems if not all the problems that Afghanistan is going through. One of the things that was mentioned but never implemented for fear of what the people would think is sniper teams placed in high risk areas. When Mr. IED guys comes knocking and plants his IED he dies. You leave his body for the next IED guy to see and so on until the message is loud and clear. You can see why this was not something that current administation would proably think of but would send a message loud and clear.

Don’t knock Cole and his answer. To state the he should present to DoD is living in a fairy tale land because there are too many levels of stupidity between him and anyone that would listen. I know, I have tried on another issue.

Don’t worry Al and JCitizen. Everything postulated was courtesy of Google News…which the Taliban can also access. Everything speculated is no doubt too costly.

In any event, I was dreaming to believe we could do most of it by air. I assumed the major challenge to heavier forces and more airlift might be fuel. But the bigger challenge is the 70,000 annual containers required to support our larger LIGHT Afghanistan force. DoD put that out publicly because they want solutions to get it into country and know that private companies can come up with magic when presented such business opportunities.

JCitizen, since Greg Grant got his information from JIEDDO, you might assume someone there read his article/comments.

Al, I don’t remotely share your belief that the DoD is stupid. But do believe that 12 C-17s flying short distances twice a day to multiple airfields could lift 48 containers a day of the 192 container daily requirement. Effective planning to airlift lighter routine container loads (truck the heavier ones) could swing that closer to 96 containers, with 4 containers per C-17 sortie. The Berlin airlift was difficult. By comparison, this would be a piece of cake.

C-13OJ and future C-27J could lift 463L pallets, as well, and I read that contractors are also performing airdrops there. If Terry Taliban could shoot down our aircraft, wouldn’t they have done it by now? I’m assuming the major issue obstructing more airlift is cost…and not USAF reluctance to deploy longer than 4–6 months at a time or establish offload operations at more airfields.;)

Also since my original post, I read that JIEDDO is requesting info on sensors to go into culverts. Perhaps that’s a cheaper solution to more aerostats or Israeli-style gun towers. Such sensors still won’t stop ambushes or fake checkpoints. Can’t envision it being solar powered (bullets) which would mean someone would have to replace batteries often. Radio electronic line of sight from the sensor would also require Soldiers or contractors nearby.

You read a lot about Afghan Police and criminals extorting money from travelers. A “screen line” along Highway 1 would stop that and provide a bed down location for other troops venturing off Highway 1 to troubled spots to the east and west. If we had PLS flatrack or CH-47 transported armored shelters for troops and smaller aerostats, they could stick around after we left for Afghan Army use.

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