Bomb Attacks on U.S., Iraqi Forces Double This Year

The number of daily attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces has doubled since January, much of that due to an increase in roadside bombs. Michael Gordon, Chief Military Correspondent for The New York Times, says the July total was the highest yet for one month: more than 26,00 bombs planted by insurgents. Of those, 1,666 exploded and 959 were found and cleared.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And there is this to consider as more U.S. troops head to Baghdad. The number of daily attacks against U.S. and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January, much of that due to an increase in roadside bombs. Michael Gordon of the New York Times has been compiling the numbers.

Michael, when you look at the numbers of roadside bombs planted in July, what do you see?

Mr. MICHAEL GORDON (The New York Times): Well, I was recently in Iraq. I spent about a month in the Anbar Province and from my standpoint, they're fantastically high. For July, which is an all-time high as a monthly total, there are more than 2,600. I think 2,625 were planted by the insurgents. 1,666 exploded, so those are actual IED attacks, and 959 were found and cleared.

So what's going on now is a kind of a cat and mouse game where the insurgents put them down and the Americans try to find them and clear them before they go off. The Americans are doing better at finding them but the insurgents are responding by planting a whole lot more of them.

BLOCK: And of the ones that do go off, that do explode, what are the numbers for the lethality of those roadside bombs?

Mr. GORDON: In terms of lethality, a lot of people survive these attacks. And if you look at the American killed in action for July, there are just a tad less than they were in January. But many people are wounded and maimed by them. And the American wounded in July, according to the Pentagon's statistics, are about twice as many as they were in January.

BLOCK: Twice as many wounded?

Mr. GORDON: Yeah, it doesn't list every proximate cause of that, but it's in the 500s, as opposed to in the 200s in January.

BLOCK: When the Pentagon looks at these numbers and tries to figure out what's behind them, are they concluding that the insurgents have better intelligence now of where U.S. forces are going to be or that there are more insurgents out there? What's their conclusion?

Mr. GORDON: Well, the conclusion of Defense officials who exam these issues for a living is, unfortunately, that the insurgency is stronger than its ever been. These are not the activities of a lone person. To plant an IED really takes a cell. What you need is - first of all they have to have a bomb maker. You have to have someone who pays for all this, so there's a financier of some type. There's a lookout, because someone has to keep an eye on the road when this thing is planted in the ground. You have to dig a hole in the asphalt.

And so these are operations which take a group of people. I think the U.S. government estimate is there're about 20,000 insurgents, but there're several times that in terms of part-time supporters.

BLOCK: And are they getting more skilled in planting them, in knowing where to target as well as what to target?

Mr. GORDAN: Well, both sides work on this. I mean this is, oh, sort of a war within the war is the American effort to defend against the IEDs and the insurgents' efforts to use them. And there are again a whole variety of techniques the Americans use. I mean, one is simply visual inspection. I was on an IED route-clearing patrol along with Jim Wilson, our photographer, in the town of Hit, and it's a Sunni town. It's reasonably hostile.

The leader of this platoon, the staff sergeant was interviewing a shopkeeper as to who might have planted some IEDs in the road just the day before, and this Staff Sergeant Martin pointed to a pile of trash and said that pile wasn't here before. That wasn't here last night. And they took a second look at it, and everybody - we all ran away, including the Iraqi shopkeeper, ran around the corner. They called in the explosives ordinance detachment. They come in with a huge armored vehicle and a little white robot that they maneuver out there, inspect it with a camera, put down a little bit of C-4, blow it up, and sure enough it was a huge IED.

And so in this case what happened was this sergeant had, in a city full of garbage and trash - because they don't have those essential services there -had picked out this piece of trash and had noticed it wasn't there before, and it was being used to camouflage an IED.

So this could be as simple as recognizing a piece of trash and as complicated as an intelligence coup where you get inside a cell that's planting them, because these are highly organized activities.

BLOCK: Michael Gordon is chief military correspondent for the New York Times. Michael, thanks very much.

Mr. GORDON: Thank you.

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