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Iraq Transition

Roadside bombs get Pentagon's attention

Task force on insurgents' 'weapon of choice' may get more clout



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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- As the U.S. military's death toll climbed further beyond 2,000, officials said Thursday they were taking steps to combat what has become the "weapon of choice" for insurgents -- what the military calls improvised explosive devices.

The latest U.S. fatality -- the 2,037th according to a CNN count of U.S. military deaths -- occurred Thursday and was the result of a homemade bomb. The victim was a soldier assigned to the 43rd Military Police Brigade in the Baquba area, north of Baghdad.

The U.S. military also said that a U.S. soldier was killed when a roadside bomb destroyed his vehicle Wednesday in Ramadi. (Watch blasts, possible Pentagon action -- 1:31)

Other methods were also used to kill in Iraq on Thursday.

In Baghdad, the bodies of 11 people were found, some slain execution-style and others showing signs of torture. In Baquba, gunmen ambushed an Iraqi army patrol, killing one soldier and wounding another.

But along with the kidnappings, ambushes and suicide car bombings -- like the one that killed 20 people on Wednesday in Musayyib -- the U.S. military has its hands full dealing with the homemade bombs that have killed many U.S. and Iraqi troops throughout the protracted insurgency.

Officials said the bombs are increasing in technical sophistication and that some are coming from outside of Iraq.

In Washington, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, the operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon is looking into placing a higher-level general in charge of a task force that has been studying ways to reduce the threat of remotely detonated bombs.

"The decision has not been made, but it has been discussed -- that perhaps adding a three-star oversight to the effort might further enhance its ability to get things done," Conway said at a news briefing with Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita.

"This whole effort to defeat IEDs is one of the most important things that's taking place" at the Pentagon, Conway said.

Calling the problem "multifaceted," Conway said the military wants to establish effective protection for troops, with the proper equipment and training.

He said the military wants to unravel the complex process used to stage the frequent roadside bombings and to break the "links in the chain" involved in detonating such an explosive. They are commonly set off using a cell phone or other radio frequency transmitter.

"You have to have a financier to put it all together. You have to have a bomb maker who has the expertise to actually create the device," Conway said. "One person will lay it and another person will [detonate it ]."

Conway said: "It's the only tool the enemy really has left in order to be able to take us on and cause casualties. And when we defeat that one method, you know, it's over."

The task force -- launched in the summer of 2004 -- has almost $1.5 billion to work with this year, Di Rita said. It has been headed by Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel.

Bombs entering Iraq

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, an Army spokesman in Baghdad, said Thursday that homemade bombs have "proven to be" the "weapon of choice" for many insurgents.

"[The typical insurgent] doesn't have the capability or the courage to take on coalition forces or Iraqi security forces in direct combat," Lynch said. "So in the wee hours of darkness, his people move out and emplace these bombs. They go off the next day and kill coalition force members, Iraqi security force members or innocent Iraqis."

He said the bombs are becoming more sophisticated: "We have seen an improvement, an increase in some instances of technical capabilities of these IEDs."

Lynch said the military is studying every aspect of the attacks to develop ways to fight the insurgents, including where the bombs were placed, their composition and their trigger mechanisms.

"We make a determination whether those bombs were made in Iraq. A lot of them are," he said. "We make a determination of whether they were made somewhere else. Some of them are."

There are "indications through multiple sources" that bombs and technology have been "transferred" into Iraq, he said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair last month said evidence points to Iranian ties to bombings in Iraq, though he added that Britain does not have proof. (Full story)

"We cannot be sure," Blair said. But "there are certain pieces of information that lead us back either to Iranian elements or to Hezbollah."

Lynch said a counter-insurgency academy in Taji, north of Baghdad, will focus on the study of insurgency and its tactics, including roadside bombs.

Lynch said Iraqis who oppose the current democratic process there represent the group that is "probably ... behind most of these IEDs." He said such insurgents include both Sunnis and Shiites.

He differentiated between domestic insurgents and foreign fighters and terrorists, who he said are responsible for huge, dramatic suicide attacks.

With 93 U.S. troops killed, October saw the highest number of American deaths in Iraq in a month since January, when 107 died.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday attributed those increases in fatalities to insurgents trying to disrupt the transitional parliamentary election in January and the constitutional referendum in October.

While the number of attacks using homemade bombs has risen, Pace said they are becoming less effective.

"The numbers of casualties per effective attack has gone down. That said, there are more overall IED attacks by the insurgents," he said.

Pentagon officials said that in October there were about 100 attacks a day in Iraq compared with 85 to 90 attacks a day in September -- and about half of all attacks involve homemade bombs.

Some military aircraft have been outfitted with onboard electronic jamming devices to stop some types of bomb detonation, and thousands of jammers on vehicles have also been sent to Iraq, according to the Pentagon.

In Washington, Conway said the military was studying similar tactics used in previous conflicts.

"Historically it's been hard. If you go all the way back to the British experience in Northern Ireland, they had problems with it," he said. "The Israelis in northern Israel and Lebanon have had problems with it, and we've tried to study what their experiences were and to learn from that."

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