IED efficiency

From Dunnigan’s Strategy Page:

IEDs have been around for several generations. The only reason they are getting so much ink in Iraq is because the terrorists are unable to inflict many casualties on American troops any other way. The Sunni Arab fighters in Iraq are, historically, a pretty inept and pathetic bunch. This can be seen in the amazingly low casualty rate of American troops. By comparison, an American soldier serving in Vietnam was over twice as likely to be killed or wounded.

IEDs were used in Vietnam, but caused (with mines and booby traps in general) only 13 percent of the casualties, compared to over 60 percent in Iraq. The reason for this is one that few journalists want to discuss openly. But historians can tell you; Arabs are lousy fighters. Hasn’t always been this way, but for the last century or so, it has. This has more to do with poor leadership, and a culture that simply does not encourage those traits that are needed to produce a superior soldier. In a word, the North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong guerillas were better, and more deadly, fighters. Contributing factors include better training and equipment for American and Coalition troops. But most of the reason for the historically low casualty rates in Iraq have to do with Iraqis who don’t know how to fight effectively.

IEDs are another matter. They are mainly a matter of technology, planning and careful preparation for the attack. These are all things Iraqis are good at. You also suffer a lot fewer casualties by using IEDs, so the weapon is good for the morale of the users. So over the last three years, the IED has been used more and more. While only 5,607 IEDs were placed in 2004, there were 10,953 encountered in 2005. But American troops responded to the threat. In 2004, about a quarter of IEDs actually went off and hurt someone. In 2005, that rate declined to ten percent, and is still falling.

That’s good news, regardless of how skeptical one is regarding the wisdom of playing nation-building. One thing I’ve wondered is if it would make sense to widen the roads most often travelled by US forces to such an extent that anything planted offroad would have to be so large as to be easily detectable. I find it difficult to imagine that the explosives in the IED’s are so powerful that they’d be undetectable if the roads were two or three times as wide.

This seems so obvious as to be hardly worth mentioning, but asphalt and active road crews are surely less expensive than Humvees, military hospitals and long rehabilitations. And perhaps they’ve already been doing this; I doubt the media would see fit to report the fact that Highway Whatever is now thirty feet wider than before.