IEDs killing fewer troops in Afghanistan

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 25, 2010; 9:42 PM

A 30 percent rise in the planting of improvised explosive devices by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan this year has resulted in more wounded American and coalition troops, according to newly compiled Pentagon statistics. But fewer of them are dying from the attacks.

Through August, there have been 1,062 effective IED attacks against coalition forces that killed 292 and wounded 2,178 others. In the first eight months of 2009, there were only 820 such attacks that killed 322 and wounded 1,813, according to the latest figures released by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).

IEDs remain the main cause of troop deaths in the war with more than half the coalition's 531 fatalities this year coming from the roadside bombings.

The number of IEDs that were found and cleared before harming coalition forces also rose this year, from 4,226 last year to 4,650 this year. The report indicates that although IEDs remain the major threat to U.S. and allied forces, the multibillion-dollar effort to counter them is having some success.

One reason given for the drop in deaths is protection provided by upgraded armored fighting vehicles now being used in Afghanistan.

A military spokesman estimated that Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles "have reduced deaths and injuries by 30 percent" from January 2009 to July 2010, according to a recent story in USA TODAY.

In its annual report for fiscal 2009, released earlier this month, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, director of JIEDDO said, "IEDs in Afghanistan continued to present a significant threat'' to coalition forces.

He described them as based on "simple, yet effective, technologies and designs such as Victim Operated IEDs (e.g., pressure plates) and Command Wire IEDs that often used large net explosive weight charges." Because of their simplicity, many of the devices continue to avoid detection even by new sophisticated countermeasures being developed, Oates said.

According to a JIEDDO fact sheet, 80 percent of the Afghan IEDs use homemade explosive components such as farm fertilizer, ammonium nitrate along with wood, saw blades and other everyday materials.

The JIEDDO program, which has been given $15.9 billion since 2004, has this year received mixed reviews on Capitol Hill. The administration requested $3.4 billion for next year, an amount that the Senate Armed Services Committee approved in sending the fiscal 2011 Defense Authorization Bill to the Senate floor, where it awaits approval.

However, the panel directed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to review the management and oversight of JIEDDO because of concerns that the program lacks "thorough intra-department oversight and coordination on development and acquisition activities."

The Senate Appropriations Committee, in its review of the fiscal 2011 request, took a different approach. It cut the JIEDDO budget down to $2.8 billion in part by transferring more than $400 million to Army and other military service accounts. In its report, the appropriators said the JIEDDO budget was "being used to cover unrequested and unjustified items which either are of interest to senior leaders or make up for shortfalls in amounts requested by the services."

Meanwhile, JIEDDO continues to push new items into the field. Last month the Army awarded $17 million in contracts for a Generation II Helmet Sensor that records concussive forces to a service member's head after a blast. The data received will help in developing new helmets and internal pads to limit post-blast injuries.

A program called Weapons Technical Intelligence is focused on collection of forensic data from found IEDs, including fingerprints of those involved in planting them. Through fiscal 2009 about 5,000 fingerprints were recovered from devices and compared with fingerprints collected from the population at large. To date, according to JIEDDO, this program has "enabled the identifications and detention of hundreds of suspects."

Anti-IED program figures from last month show attempted IED attacks in Afghanistan dropped from their record highs in July, with the numbers of coalition forces killed and wounded from the bombs last month also falling from the previous month.

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