Mon, Jun 27, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Insurgents getting better at what they do

Shaped charges, infrared detonators and other bomb-making advances signal that insurgents in Iraq are getting some sophisticated assistance, US officials claim

By David Cloud  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Washington

US casualties from bomb attacks in Iraq have reached new heights in the last two months as insurgents have begun to deploy devices that leave armored vehicles increasingly vulnerable, according to military records.

Last month there were about 700 attacks against American forces using so-called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the highest number since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the US military command in Iraq and a senior Pentagon military official. Attacks on Iraqis also reached unprecedented levels, Lieutenant General John Vines, a senior US ground commander in Iraq, told reporters on June 21.

The surge in attacks, the officials say, has coincided with the appearance of significant advancements in bomb design, including the use of "shaped" charges that concentrate the blast and give it a better chance of penetrating armored vehicles, causing higher casualties.

Another change, a senior military officer said, has been the detonation of explosives by infrared lasers, an innovation aimed at bypassing electronic jammers used to block bombs from detonating.

IEDs of all types caused 33 American deaths last month, and there have been at least 38 fatalities so far this month, the highest toll over a two-month period, according to statistics assembled by Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks official figures.

In a sign of heightened US concern, the Army convened a conference last week at Fort Irwin, in the California desert, where engineers, contractors and senior officers grappled with the problems posed by the new bombs. One attendee, Colonel Bob Davis, an Army explosives expert, called the new elements seen in some bombs "pretty disturbing."

In a brief interview, Davis declined to discuss the changes, but said the "sophistication is increasing and it will increase further." In addition, on June 21, senior Army officials gave a closed briefing to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the insurgents' new techniques, according to two congressional aides.

Although the number of bombs using the refinements remains low, their appearance underscores the insurgents' adaptability and the difficulty the Pentagon faces, despite a strong effort over the last year, in containing the threat. Improvised explosives now account for about 70 percent of American casualties in Iraq.

At a briefing on Tuesday for reporters at the Pentagon, Vines, who spoke by telephone from Iraq, said that the insurgents' tactics "have become more sophisticated in some cases," and that they were probably drawing on bomb-making experts from outside Iraq and from the old Iraqi Army. He added that the insurgency was "quite small" and "relatively static," a view not shared by all of his colleagues.

Car bomb attacks against American forces -- both suicide attacks and remotely detonated devices -- reached a monthly high of 70 in April and fell slightly in May, according to figures provided by the US military in Iraq.

"For a period of time we felt we were pushing them away from us, and now it looks like they are back to targeting coalition forces," said a Pentagon official involved in the anti-IED effort. "And they've learned that in order to attack us, they need to get more sophisticated."

The next highest two-month period was in January and February, around the time of the Iraqi elections, when 54 Americans were killed by bombs, according to the official statistics assembled by the casualty-count Web site. Iraqis suffer the most casualties by far, though reliable figures are not available.

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