lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Mar 19 07:17:55 MST 2006
Iraq's Real WMD
Deadly Puzzle: IEDs are killing U.S. soldiers at a scary clip. At war with
an insidious weapon.
By John Barry, Michael Hastings and Evan Thomas
March 27, 2006 issue - They call it "running the gauntlet." Army Capt.
Gregory Hirschey and his bomb squad would go looking for improvised
explosive devices (IEDs) in the streets of Baghdad. They would find them in
donkey carts, paint cans, trash bags, plastic bottles and in
schoolyardsexplosive charges ready to be detonated by insurgents lying in
wait. Operating around the clock in teams of three, Hirschey's 21-man unit
responded to 2,178 incidents in seven months, from the summer of 2005 to
the winter of 2006. "There were IEDs on the way there, there were IEDs on
the way back," says Hirschey. Not to mention small-arms fire, ambushes and
With a month left on his tour, Hirschey began to think his unit would
miraculously emerge unscathed. Then an IED blew off a soldier's arm. Twelve
days later, a team leaderHirschey's close friend, Staff Sgt. Johnnie
Masonwas dismantling an IED when a second one killed him instantly. (Army
bomb squads are often targeted by the insurgents for ambushes.) A strapping
12-year veteran with brush-cut blond hair, a wife and three kids, Hirschey,
38, found himself becoming numb to the IED threat. "You quit looking," he
told NEWSWEEK. "I don't know what it is. You almost feel like you're part
of the walking dead."
In every sense of the word, IEDs are crippling American soldiers in Iraq.
The insurgents know that their best chance to win is to bleed America, and
IEDs are the most effective way to cause the most harm at the least cost.
Three years after the United States invaded Iraq, the military still has
not figured out how to overcome the threat. Former administration officials
blame the military bureaucracy; military officials blame a civilian
leadership that did not grasp the operational challenges.
There is no doubt that the Bush administration is frustrated by the IED
menace and is trying hard, if belatedly, to overcome it. President George
W. Bush's tone was slightly defensive last week when he talked about
"putting the best minds in America to work on this effort." In 2004, said
Bush, the military spent $150 million to defeat IEDs; this year the figure
is $3.3 billionmostly for more armor and better technology. Bush himself
has asked how the Pentagon could burn through so much money. Last week Gen.
Montgomery Meigs, the four-star general appointed by Bush in December to
lead the anti-IED effort, gave the president a little show and tell. On a
long dark table in the Roosevelt Room were assembled a series of IEDs,
ranging from the small, simple kindan artillery shell detonated by a
garage-door openerto the bigger, more sophisticated shaped charges ignited
by infrared beams (technology, it appears, courtesy of Iran). The former is
good for tearing off limbs; the latter can take out a tank.
The Pentagon and Central Command do not like to get into specifics, for
fear of tipping off the insurgents, but officials claim that the military
is disarming an ever-greater number of IEDs before they can kill Americans.
"We have reduced the casualty rate from IEDs by half of what it was 18
months ago," says Pentagon spokesman Brian Whitman. All this may be true,
but the insurgents are planting IEDs at a faster rate than the Army can
eliminate them. According to Central Command, in 2004 there were 5,607 IED
attacks; in 2005, there were 10,953.
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