Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Hurt Locker in Afghanistan

March 28, 2010
(A simulated Improvised Explosive Device scenario in Kabul.)

(A simulated Improvised Explosive Device scenario in Kabul)

“The Hurt Locker”, the Oscar-winning story of a U.S. army bomb disposal squad defusing explosives in the combat zones of Baghdad, may well have been shot in the riverine valleys of southern Afghanistan.

For it is in the Afghan theatre that Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs as everyone calls them, have become the bigger threat to U.S.-led forces, just as they taper off in Iraq. U.S. army Lieutenant General Michael L Oates told the House Armed Services Committee in a testimony earlier this month that Afghanistan had experienced a near doubling of IED attacks in the last year with a corresponding significant rise in U.S. and coalition casualties.

Conversely, the Iraq threat is roughly 10 percent of its 2007 peak, he said. Things have changed obviously in Iraq with a weakened militancy unable to mount the same level of challenge to coalition forces. Better intelligence/ detection have also played a role in lessening the IED threat, a major killer of security forces in insurgencies throughout recent history.

The rise in IED activity in Afghanistan, on the other hand, reflects the growing reach of the Taliban as they battle for control of large swathes of territory.

More worrisome, as Oates said, the kill ratio of the IEDs is growing.  Over the past three years in Afghanistan, casualty rates of U.S. troops have increased by roughly 50 percent. In other words, each IED attack is causing 50 percent more casualties on average today in Afghanistan, than at this same time three years ago. Iraq, by comparison, has a U.S. IED casualty rate that currently is about half that of Afghanistan.

The rural terrain of Afghanistan with its unpaved roads offers better cover for the crude devices than the urbanised environment of Iraq, You can put explosive charges in the middle of the road or in culverts, Oates said. Also the Taliban seem to be using low or non-metallic content fertilizer-based explosives which frustrate detection. Finally as part of the new operational strategy of getting closer to the people, U.S. forces are conducting more patrols on foot than behind the protection of an armoured vehicle. And that makes them vulnerable to an IED hit.

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are you guys winning

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