IED attacks on the rise even outside of Afghanistan, Iraq
By TOM VANDEN BROOK | USA Today | Published: October 24, 2011
WASHINGTON -- Attacks with homemade bombs are growing worldwide and pose an increasing threat to the United States, said the head of the Pentagon agency charged with combating makeshift bombs.
Attacks with improvised explosive devices outside Afghanistan and Iraq have more than doubled in the last three years, according to Pentagon data. From January to September, there were an average of 608 attacks per month in 99 countries. During that time, there were 367 homemade bomb attacks in the United States.
"It's cheap, effective and readily available," said Army Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.
"If we think it's going to go away after Iraq and Afghanistan, we're dreaming," he said. "It's going to confront us operationally for decades and domestically. We need to come to grips with that. It's an enduring threat."
Their popularity among criminals, narcotics traffickers and terrorists continues to grow, aided by the spread online of bomb-making technology, Barbero said.
Tactics used against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated to places such as Somalia, he said. African peacekeepers recently have been targeted with sophisticated armor-piercing IEDs.
Another growing concern is the use of readily available fertilizer as the key component for homemade explosives.
Barbero estimated that 80 percent of improvised explosives in Afghanistan are made with fertilizer produced in neighboring Pakistan. Those bombs cause 90 percent of U.S. casualties there.
Even as their popularity grows elsewhere, improvised explosive attacks have been at record-high levels in Afghanistan. In September, the bombs killed 18 U.S. troops and wounded 420 others, according to the Pentagon data.
"We're playing defense unless we get something to reduce the free flow" of fertilizer from Pakistan, Barbero said.
Fielding counter-IED equipment faster, collecting intelligence on bomb-making groups and enlisting other government agencies to combat the threat will be necessary to limit attacks, Barbero said.
Already, the military has spent $45 billion on Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored trucks to protect troops from IEDs.
The vehicles have been credited with saving thousands of lives, according to the Pentagon. Since 2006, the anti-IED task force has spent an additional $17 billion.
IED attacks likely will increase as they are copied by groups other than al-Qaida or insurgents in Afghanistan, said Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution.
In the future the bombs will probably be encountered in urban areas, not the dirt roads and paths of Afghanistan where billions have been spent to counter them, Singer said.
"We have to figure out a way to alter the investment ratio," he said. "It's unsustainable to keep throwing billions of dollars to fight a technology that costs the other side tens of dollars."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Instructors at the Combat Center's newest range teach Marines such skills as detecting hidden improvised explosive devices, like the wired up mortar round shown here. The new range is Combat Center Range 800, made for tenant units preparing for deployments to Afghanistan.
MICHAEL NERL/COURTESY U.S. MARINE CORPS