Army Faces Rising Number of Roadside Bombs in Iraq

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 8, 2006

Roadside bombs in Iraq rose to record numbers this summer -- to about four times as many as in January 2004 -- as tips from Iraqi citizens warning of the bombs and attacks have dropped sharply amid a flaring of sectarian violence, according to a senior U.S. defense official.

About 1,200 improvised explosive devices (IEDS) -- the leading killer of U.S. troops in Iraq -- were detonated in August as insurgents continue to invent new ways to design and hide the lethal munitions, according to retired Army Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, which is spearheading efforts to curb the bombs.

"We're making slow, grudging progress," Meigs said in a briefing with reporters. "We're not going to bat a thousand." But he predicted his organization -- which has grown from a small Army initiative of 12 people in 2003 to a Pentagon entity with 269 employees and a fiscal 2006 budget of $3.47 billion -- will "do better" over time.

Despite the soaring number of roadside bombs, nearly half are now discovered and neutralized by the military before they explode, and the number of U.S. casualties caused by the devices has remained relatively constant, although it has edged upward in recent months, Meigs said.

But finding the bombs has grown more difficult, as fewer Iraqis have come forward to alert the military about bombs, snipers and other enemy activity since the February bombing of the gold-domed mosque in Samarra sparked a spiral of sectarian killings.

The number of tips from Iraqis that the military can act upon, known as "actionable intelligence," rose earlier this year from 4,000 in January to a peak of 5,900 in April, but then declined significantly, to 3,700, in July. "It will improve once it's not so darn lethal to go out on the street," Meigs said.

"You have to have really good intel in real time. You have to have operational analysis of what's going well and what's not going well. And you have to train everybody like crazy," he said.

Bombs that are particularly devastating for U.S. troops today include "explosively formed penetrators" -- metal slugs placed in cones that can punch through an inch of steel, he said. Another growing challenge comes from devices designed to detonate on the underbelly of armored vehicles, where the vehicles are most vulnerable.

"There is a higher incidence of bottom attack IEDs, especially in the Sunni areas," he said, adding that there is a particular concentration in Baghdad, where the U.S. military has stepped up operations to quell sectarian violence.

The Pentagon is adding new armored doors to Humvees, producing 5,000 kits so far for the estimated 35,000 Humvees in Iraq, Meigs said. But he said the military can add only so much armor to its vehicles while remaining mobile, and that he could not guarantee the new doors will protect against the penetrator bombs or other, bigger explosive devices being produced by insurgents.

Meigs's organization will spend about $1.43 billion -- or 41 percent -- of its budget this year on jamming devices to prevent remotely detonated bombs, and an additional $1.22 billion to detect, neutralize and gather intelligence on the road bombs. But he stressed that aggressive military operations, coupled with training in methods to defeat improvised explosives, are as important as new technology in tackling the problem.

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