U.S. Military Works to Combat IEDs in Iraq
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
October was a deadly month in Iraq. Ninety-six Americans died and many Iraqis were killed. In the same month, Iraqi voters approved a constitution. This morning we're taking another of our periodic looks at the overall picture in Iraq. In a few minutes we'll hear about the US-financed reconstruction effort there, but first, we're focusing on IEDs, the bombs insurgents are using with deadly effect against US and Iraqi soldiers as well as civilians.
INSKEEP: Improvised explosive devices, as the military calls them, are a leading danger for American troops. The man in charge of devising a response to the Pentagon is Brigadier General Joseph Votel. He says the US is developing better defenses, even as the numbers of attacks and deaths go up.
Brigadier General JOSEPH VOTEL (Joint Task Force on IEDs): The use of IEDs is increasing. It clearly is becoming the preferred method for terrorists and insurgents to use against coalition forces that are operating in theater. At the same time a number of the initiatives that we've been able to get into place are beginning to make a difference; up-armoring our vehicles and better protecting our soldiers and Marines are paying off. The training that units and individual service members receive before they go into theater is paying off and making a difference.
INSKEEP: We alluded to the fact that there's an increase in the numbers. Is there some way to quantify that?
Brig. Gen. VOTEL: You know, it's--in some cases it's doubled and tripled in the numbers of attacks per day.
INSKEEP: Over the past year or so?
Brig. Gen. VOTEL: Yes, over the past year. And what we've generally seen is over the last 12 to 18 months is about a 45 percent reduction in the casualty ratios. Now to understand that, you need to understand that the actual number of attacks has gone up, but the rate at which they're causing casualties has not risen correspondingly.
INSKEEP: General, the last time we spoke in the spring, you described a process of adaptation where each side would adjust to the other. For example, the enemy was using hidden bombs that would be detonated by wires. You trained your guys to spot the wires, so they started detonating bombs with radios, so you responded to that. What are some of the responses back and forth going on now?
Brig. Gen. VOTEL: They modify their devices in a number of different ways. They modify them by better use of camouflage, combining different components to produce more lethal effects. I think the key point is as they continue to look at other ways that they can initiate, they also don't give up anything. And they always retain this database, this library, if you will, of capabilities that they can always go back to.
INSKEEP: Do you think you're dealing with a unified command and control on the enemy side here?
Brig. Gen. VOTEL: I think we're dealing with a variety of organizations who are united by probably a common goal of trying to get Americans out of Iraq.
INSKEEP: Are they sharing information with each other?
Brig. Gen. VOTEL: I think we have to assume they are sharing information with each other, although they may not necessarily be linked together in the same fashion that we would think ourselves to be linked together.
INSKEEP: Now, General, when you step back from the day-to-day adaptation to different tactics and look at the bigger picture and you look at the fact that even though you've made all these adaptations and improvements, the number of attacks keeps increasing and the overall number of deaths goes up, what does that make you think about over the long term?
Brig. Gen. VOTEL: What it points out for me is that we've got to continue to adapt as well, and we've got to change the way that we operate in environments like this. This counterinsurgency that we're dealing with here is a different type of battle than we may have dealt with in the past. So we've got to continue to train and develop our forces to operate in that. And along with that, we've got to continue to look at our science and technology bases and our long-term research to make sure that we start developing the capabilities to deal with these IED attacks.
INSKEEP: Although what does it mean that you're two and a half years in and the enemy is still able to increase the number of attacks?
Brig. Gen. VOTEL: I think if you look at any historical example, you can see that this is not dissimilar from what is seen in Northern Ireland with the UK or with the Israeli army and the activities that they've been involved in for now decades where use of bombs have consistently been used. This is a very adaptive enemy. He is able to bring to bear a lot of knowledge in developing these things. And so we're seeing a natural evolution here that, while we're seeing it in larger numbers here, is not unlike things that have been seen in the past.
INSKEEP: Do you think that the insurgents could double or triple their number of attacks again, given another year?
Brig. Gen. VOTEL: I don't know. I'm not sure I know enough about their capabilities. They certainly have demonstrated the ability to continue to do this. Whether there's a limit to this or not, I don't know. We have go give full respect to the enemy here, and I think that's the first responsibility of any commander or any leader out there on the battlefield is to respect the enemy that he's dealing with and give him full credit for being able to do whatever he thinks he needs to do to accomplish his particular missions.
INSKEEP: US Army Brigadier General Joseph Votel is in charge of the Pentagon's Joint Task Force on IEDs, or roadside bombs, in Iraq.
General, thanks very much.
Brig. Gen. VOTEL: OK. Thank you.
INSKEEP: And yesterday, by the way, a Pentagon official said the military may appoint a three-star general to focus more attention on roadside bombs.
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