Effective Bomb Attacks Decline in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2011 — Across Afghanistan, the per­cent­age of effec­tive ene­my attacks using home­made bombs declined from August to Jan­u­ary, the out­go­ing direc­tor of an agency devot­ed to defeat­ing those devices said yes­ter­day.
Dur­ing a brief­ing at his organization’s head­quar­ters in Arling­ton, Va., Army Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates, direc­tor of the Joint Impro­vised Explo­sive Device Defeat Orga­ni­za­tion, said the ene­my puts out between 1,300 and 1,500 such bombs every month.

Aghrandab District Center in Afghanistan's Kandahar province
Army Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates, sec­ond from right, gets a brief­ing from Army Brig. Gen. Michael Shields, right, and Army Lt. Col. David Fly­nn, sec­ond from left, at the Aghrandab Dis­trict Cen­ter in Afghanistan’s Kan­da­har province, Oct. 13, 2010.
U.S. Army pho­to by Spc. Ian Schell
Click to enlarge

“But the most impor­tant thing is that … [the enemy’s] per­cent­age of effec­tive attacks is declin­ing. It has come down from 25 per­cent to 16 per­cent, and that results in few­er dead sol­diers and civil­ians,” Oates said.

“The ene­my,” he added, “is 84 per­cent inef­fec­tive against us.”

But the high num­ber of home­made bombs still being pro­duced means much work remains, he said.

“Because the vol­ume has not dropped, this tells us that the ene­my still has the moti­va­tion, the financ­ing, the pre­cur­sor mate­r­i­al and the abil­i­ty to emplace IEDs,” Oates said.

The aggre­gate data offers a sta­tis­ti­cal snap­shot of activ­i­ty across the embat­tled nation, he said, but it does­n’t mean that bomb attacks have been less lethal in hot-spot areas such as the south and south­west region­al com­mands, where deaths and injuries have increased recent­ly.

“To under­stand this war in Afghanistan or the one in Iraq,” Oates said, “you have to tele­scope up and down [inside each nation] to get a full view.”

Meth­ods of attack for the bombs also dif­fer by area in Afghanistan, he said.

In east­ern Afghanistan, where the Haqqani ter­ror­ist net­work is the prin­ci­pal adver­sary, Oates said, more com­mand-wire devices and some lim­it­ed mil­i­tary explo­sives are used. “Down south,” he said, “it’s almost exclu­sive­ly fer­til­iz­er-based bombs and pres­sure-plate devices that our sol­diers have to con­tend with.” Those types of bombs, he added, account for 70 per­cent of the attacks in Afghanistan. Com­mand-wire, remote­ly con­trolled bombs remain a very small per­cent­age of the total, the gen­er­al said.

On the bat­tle­field, Oates said, per­sis­tent sur­veil­lance is one capa­bil­i­ty that is help­ing to reduce ene­my effec­tive­ness. Sol­diers have equip­ment such as advanced firearm sight­ing sys­tems, and air­borne plat­forms — includ­ing fixed-wing, manned and unmanned sys­tems – that pro­vide eyes in the sky.

“We’ve increased sig­nif­i­cant­ly the num­ber of aerostats, or blimps,” Oates said. “They’re ground-teth­ered and they’ve got cam­eras and suites of sen­sors aboard that can pick up a num­ber of things.”

Six­ty-sev­en aerostats are in Afghanistan now, Oates said. “Com­man­ders there have asked for more,” he added, “and we’re prob­a­bly going to dou­ble that num­ber in the next year.”

This con­stel­la­tion of sur­veil­lance sen­sors that have gone into ser­vice over the last nine months is mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in find­ing the pre­cur­sors of home­made explo­sives, the gen­er­al said, watch­ing those who try to emplace bombs and under­stand­ing how the ene­my net­work is mov­ing things around the bat­tle­field.

Good train­ing and bet­ter pro­tec­tive equip­ment also have con­tributed this year to reduc­ing the enemy’s effec­tive­ness, Oates said, offer­ing an exam­ple.

“Last year at this time, there were 12 or 13 route clear­ance com­pa­nies in Afghanistan. Today there are 75,” he said. “That’s an enor­mous capa­bil­i­ty to sweep and clear the road on a much more fre­quent basis and a much more effec­tive basis.”

In addi­tion to pro­tect­ing troops, keep­ing areas clear of road­side bombs also enables the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion to use the roads, Oates said, not­ing that the ene­my kills more civil­ians than coali­tion and Afghan forces.

On March 4, Oates will trans­fer author­i­ty for the orga­ni­za­tion to Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Bar­bero, who is return­ing from a 13-month deploy­ment with U.S. Forces Iraq as deputy com­man­der for advis­ing and train­ing.

The new direc­tor “has exten­sive com­bat expe­ri­ence, and most impor­tant­ly, recent expe­ri­ence,” Oates said.

Bar­bero “just came from Iraq three weeks ago, … so he’s going to bring that com­bat rel­e­van­cy that’s so vital to the direc­tor­ship,” he added.

Oates point­ed out that the orga­ni­za­tion was char­tered to respond rapid­ly to warfight­ers’ needs. “I think we’ve met that chal­lenge,” he said. “The peo­ple we care most about — the sol­diers and Marines over­seas — they’re very hap­py with our work.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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