Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Devil's Trident

Two Canadian soldiers were killed by a roadside IED, only days after six others were killed, also by an IED. A third IED, which injured another Canadian, occurred about a kilometer away. Although few details are available, the IED was described as exploding "near" the targeted vehicles. (Comments discuss the recent explosions at the Iraqi Parliament)

"Two Canadian soldiers were killed and two others were injured, one seriously, when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle in Afghanistan," Col. Mike Cessford, deputy commander of Task Force Afghanistan, told reporters in Kandahar early Thursday.

The latest IED attacks were on Coyotes, which are Canadian versions of the Swiss Piranha 8-wheel AFV. The earlier attack which killed 6 were on Canadian LAVs, which are similar to equipment used by US Marines.

It is tempting to wonder whether the reference to bombs which exploded "near" the Coyote described an EFP. The IED which destroyed the LAV was probably a large conventional mine because it appears to have totaled the vehicle, whereas an EFVs would have punched a plate-sized hole in a LAV but would not necessarily kill six people.

But be that as it may, the IED and sniper are turning out to be two of the most effective weapons in the enemy arsenal. One suspects the enemy of relying on a kind of devil's trident: the IED, Sniper and AAA to hamper Coalition mobility, while using mortars to harass static bases. (Very little has been written about the counters to these new threats. There is some discussion about reactive armor developments effective against kinetic energy projectiles in the future. But doubtless many of the near term countermeasures rely on breaking up enemy IED cells, jamming and surveillance.) Terrorism is the ultimate defense in depth, the ultimate area ambush and those who think the US experience is peculiar to Iraq should look at the Allied experience in Basra and Afghanistan; and if they are historically inclined, to Algeria and Lebanon to see that it represents a tactical challenge of no mean dimension.

It's a challenge that will be presented again and again, whether or not the US leaves Iraq. It's a form of defense that will be mounted in Afghanistan, southern Thailand and Lebanon. The location of the battlefield may move -- even perhaps to Western cities -- but it will take the same forms unless the problem is solved.

Perhaps it is not coincidental that many of the tactics adopted in response to extreme defense in depth are forms of offense in depth as well. The most prominent of these has been the raid, in which Coalition forces strike at terrorist cells with men or from UAVs circling invisibly overhead. These measures are now being supplemented by recruiting local soldiery and allies and turning them against the enemy. The Russians have enlisted Chechens in their continuing campaign and America has tribal allies in Anbar. The attack against terrorists ingrained in a social structure will probably consists of twisting that very social structure against them. It is hard to imagine any continuing campaign against terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or Pakistan that will not result in traumatic changes to these societies.

The attack on Canadians in Afghanistan are a sad reminder that the game, far from ending, has only just begun.


Blogger wretchard said...

Many of the technological solutions that are proposed to combat IEDs rely on the massive application of computation to create active armor jets which can intercept an incoming kinetic energy warhead or systems which continuously detect changes to a route in multiple spectra. Even in intelligence gathering and analysis, it is the computer which is probably providing the technological underpinnings of countermeasures against terrorism. The actual expenditure of explosive and ammunition in the current conflict is probably very much smaller in proportion to the conflicts of the 20th century. It is information superiority that matters above all.

4/12/2007 04:48:00 AM  
Blogger Pierre Legrand said...

Wretchard while it may be true that it is local insurgents that are providing manpower it is also a fact that the best fighters are not local. The best bomb makers are those trained by places like Iran, Syria, Pakistan and the rest...we have done little if nothing to stop that sort of behavior by those governments.

Administration after administration just simply ignores for instance the threat from Iran...(not that they are the only threat but they are the most obvious.) We will not win this war by computers alone...but by cutting off the many heads of supply and training.

This is a debate I had with a very conservative member of Free Republic and I am struck by how far we will go to defend those administrations with huge cause to take out Iran but who chose not to...

A Debate, Reagan Actions regarding Marine Barracks bombing from FreeRepublic.

4/12/2007 05:14:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Today there have been two bomb attacks in Baghdad. One which destroyed a civilian bridge and another which went off in the Iraqi Parliament cafeteria. The attack on the bridge is interesting. Precautions have been taken against attacks on crowds (like blocking off streets) so the attack on the bridge, which provides spectacular imagery but is a confession of failure in a way. Let's see if the attack on the Iraqi Parliament involves some of the Sadr MPs or their security lieutenants. This is "defense in depth" at its most intense. The offense in depth must be equally penetrating. If nothing else, it's a glimpse of warfare as it may come to the West. Nothing in principle prohibits these kinds of tactics from hitting the US or Europe. The attack in Algeria sent shivers through Europe precisely because they fear they may be next.

4/12/2007 05:26:00 AM  
Blogger Jake said...

What defense in depth comes down to is hiding behind the enemy's red lines. It is well known that the West will not wipe out massive number of civilians no matter how much those civilians support those hiding in there mist. So it becomes an obvious tactic to hide within and strike out from behind those civilians. Its those civilians and the West's reluctance to kill that allow the terrorist that cover. Until either of those two conditions change terrorism of this type will continue.

4/12/2007 06:04:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...


That's exactly right. And there's no reason to expect that the terrorist methodology, that of hiding behind civilians, will in some way be restricted to the Middle East. As long as the West has no institutional counter to it, they will keep using the tactic. And there is no reason in principle it must be confined to the Middle East. We should have learned than on September 11, but what short memories we have.

4/12/2007 06:11:00 AM  
Blogger Arthur said...

Jake said: "So it becomes an obvious tactic to hide within and strike out from behind those civilians."

It was interesting to read that the Ethiopians in Somalia seem to fire on attacks no matter where from. The result seems to be a willingness by the authorities in the attacking clans to seek peace.

Traditionally, "civilians" who hide attackers are treated as attackers and killed. See Romans, Franks, etc. This will still work today, but does not work at the 'win hearts' level.

4/12/2007 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger Tom_Holsinger said...

The eptiome of British military leadership, planning and sagacity is now to throw the troops over the side and troll for sharks.

In 1939-40 the British Imperial General Staff debated whether British interests would be better served with Italy as an enemy or as an ally. We don't have to ask that question about Britain today. We'd be better off with a neutral Britain than as an ally.

4/12/2007 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Tom_Holsinger said...

Please delete my post here. I meant to put in in the previous thread.

4/12/2007 11:00:00 AM  

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