Iraqi bomb builders learn fast, exact heavy toll (IRAQ)
Instructions on how to build IEDs can be easily found on the Internet. IEDs are responsible for many of the U.S. deaths in Iraq, where 15,000 troops have also been wounded. An IED that killed 14 Marines and a civilian interpreter when it blew up their amphibious assault vehicle was nothing more complicated than three landmines stacked together.
Hiram Torres, a 21-year-old from Puerto Rico, was manning the machinegun atop a Humvee armoured vehicle when a roadside bomb hit his U.S. military convoy in Iraq.
He was knocked unconscious but otherwise was unscathed in the attack last month near Baquba, north of Baghdad.
"It was three days before my birthday," Torres recalls at his base near the city. "I was out, I didn't remember nothing. After I woke up, I was shaking."
Luckily for him, the device was not one of an increasingly frequent breed of armour-piercing explosives and "shaped charges" that concentrate the blast on a target.
More than two years after U.S. leaders dismissed insurgents as "dead-enders," their attacks are more lethal than ever and the American military death toll since the March 2003 invasion has reached the milestone of 2,000.
U.S. commanders now stress the violence will not end until there is a political solution.
Major Steven Melbourne, British military spokesman in Basra, said roadside bombs had become more sophisticated in the past two years. "Before, they were very much home-made, very crude in their build, whereas these now are a bit more effective."
Guerrillas hide improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in anything from banana boxes to dead animals. Instructions on how to build them can be easily found on the Internet.
Mobile phones, alarm clocks, sophisticated infra-red beams or simple trip wires can be used to detonate them.
U.S. officers say the typical "kill rate" from an IED used to be one American dead or wounded. The more sophisticated devices that appeared early this year now kill three or four.
IEDs are responsible for many of the U.S. deaths in Iraq, where 15,000 troops have also been wounded.
A shaped charge is one that has been altered in some way to direct the force of the blast in a certain direction.
This can be done by simply placing it in front of something hard like a concrete wall, or hollowing out part of the charge facing the target on the principle that the blast will follow the path of least resistance.
In some cases a cone of a metal like copper, which has a low melting point, will be inserted in the hollowed-out section, so that when the device detonates, the heat melts the copper, which then shoots out at high speed like a bullet.
Such a super-heated molten projectile can cut through armoured vehicles and turn the armour into shrapnel that causes even more damage to those inside. Rockets can also be fitted with copper tips to pierce armour, on the same principle.
Tim Ripley, special correspondent for Jane's Defence Weekly said armour-piercing was "pretty old technology" and shaped charges had been used since World War Two. "It's nothing a decent car repair workshop couldn't come up with," he said.
U.S. forces estimate that Iraq under Saddam a country with less than a tenth of the population of the United States had between 600,000 and one million tonnes of munitions, compared with the U.S. army's 1.8 million tonnes.
Many of Iraq's stockpiles were never secured by the U.S.-led forces when they invaded in 2003.
Melbourne said that even though British and U.S. forces find weapons caches on a daily basis, cutting off the supply of explosives was a long-term undertaking.
More urgent was to track down the bomb-makers, he said.
The most important counter-measure is intelligence and U.S. forces depend on the Iraqi army to get tip-offs from locals.
Jane's Ripley said U.S. forces appeared to be keeping themselves to themselves to avoid casualties, favouring air transport over road convoys, handing over many tasks to Iraqi forces and concentrating their own forces in larger bases.
U.S. forces have also "up-armoured" more vehicles, adding steel plates. But there is only so much that armour can do.
An IED that killed 14 Marines and a civilian interpreter when it blew up their amphibious assault vehicle was nothing more complicated than three landmines stacked together.
Von: 25 October 2005 (Reuters) by Claudia Parsons