September 30, 2007


It's hard to think of a more effective weapon than the IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Thought it can take the form of a roadside bomb or jury-rigged land mine, the U.S. military uses the acronym IED to describe all the bombs, little and large, manufactured by amateurs for use against the U.S. military and its partners in Iraq.

The IED is effective for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it's a cheap, easy way to inflict casualties on a fighting force whose home front and officer corps is casualty-averse. Second, it's a great way -- when placed in a populated area -- to draw a disproportionate response from the targeted patrol. (Example: remember when that Marine special operations unit was hit with an IED in Afghanistan in the spring and they proceeded to shoot their machine guns into a crowd of civilians, killing over a dozen?) And third, it's a low-tech weapon that frustrates a military that wants technical, high-tech solutions.

"Americans want technical solutions. They want the silver bullet," said Rear Adm. Arch Macy, commander of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Washington, which now oversees several counter-IED technologies. "The solution to IEDs is the whole range of national power --political-military affairs, strategy, operations, intelligence."

If you have some time today, read Rick Atkinson's profile of the IED -- and the U.S. military's efforts to counter its use -- in today's Washington Post. Abu Muqawama especially enjoyed the criticism of the way in which America's military culture -- and military industry -- has failed to adapt to the COIN era:

The IED struggle has become a test of national agility for a lumbering military-industrial complex fashioned during the Cold War to confront an even more lumbering Soviet system. "If we ever want to kneecap al-Qaeda, just get them to adopt our procurement system. It will bring them to their knees within a week," a former Pentagon official said.

"We all drank the Kool-Aid," said a retired Army officer who worked on counter-IED issues for three years. "We believed, and Congress was guilty as well, that because the United States was the technology powerhouse, the solution to this problem would come from science. That attitude was 'All we have to do is throw technology at it and the problem will go away.' . . . The day we lose a war it will be to guys with spears and loincloths, because they're not tied to technology. And we're kind of close to being there."

Or, as an officer writing in Marine Corps Gazette recently put it, "The Flintstones are adapting faster than the Jetsons."

One sentence this blog took (minor) issue with was this sentence:

Insurgents often post video clips of their attacks on the Internet, the equivalent of taking scalps.

Well, it's slightly more complicated than that. Conventional thinking says the damage done by the IED was the objective of the operation. Abu Muqawama, though, believes the videotape is the real objective in many cases. Yes, it's nice to kill a few Americans. But even if you don't kill any Americans, you can post your video on the internet anyway (claiming that you killed two, or a dozen, or twenty) and radicalize and inspire others. It's viral warfare, and the most important thing you will have gotten out of your operations is not the enemy BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) but the image of the destruction.

Roland Barthes would have a had a field day with this war, wouldn't he?