The Washington Post and ABC News released a survey this week revealing dramatic deterioration in public support for the administration’s handling of the military campaign in Iraq. Three-quarters of the respondents said the number of casualties is unacceptably high, and two-thirds said the campaign is bogged down — in other words, not making progress. Most of this negativism is traceable to a single problem: the wave of insurgent bombings since formation of a new government in April.
Improvised explosive devices, or IED’s, now cause about half of all the American combat casualties in Iraq, both killed-in-action and wounded. They are also killing hundreds of Iraqis as insurgents strike every target of opportunity, from police stations to markets to mosques. Most of the Iraqi casualties are Shiites, which exacerbates sectarian tensions since most of the bombers are Sunnis.
If U.S. forces can find a way of stopping the bombers, then the country can be stabilized and complex issues such as political power-sharing can be addressed. But if the bombing campaign persists at its current level of intensity — an average of one attack per hour — the country will gradually descend into chaos and the American public will cease supporting the war effort. Obviously, that’s what the insurgents want, whether they are former Baathists seeking to regain power or outsiders (most of the outsiders are Sunni fundamentalists from Saudi Arabia seeking to prevent the rise of a Shiite regime).
The Army has established a task force directed by Brigadier General Joseph L. Votel to analyze every facet of the prediction-detection-prevention-neutralization challenge presented by IED’s. Gen. Votel told a Lexington Institute audience on June 8 that although the number of bombs is increasing, the ratio of casualties is decreasing due to better U.S. tactics and training. About 40% of insurgent bombs are rendered safe before they explode, but that percentage is not improving over time because insurgents are constantly adapting and innovating.
The latest “innovation” is more aggressive use of vehicular bombs, two-thirds of which are driven by suicide bombers. Gen. Votel says the use of suicide bombers seems to signal desperation on the part of insurgents, but concedes that the Army doesn’t fully understand how suicide bombers are recruited. The commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq reports at least five sightings since April of suicide bombers strapped to steering wheels or floor pedals in cars, raising doubts about whether their behavior was voluntary. However, it is clear that many suicide bombers willingly, even fervently, go to their deaths.
Steady progress is being made in detecting and neutralizing insurgent bombs. For example, General Dynamics is developing a lightweight system that creates a protective “bubble” around convoys, and Alliant Techsystems has built an electronic device that detonates concealed bombs from a safe distance. The Army is considering hundreds of ideas. But flagging public support for the war effort encourages bombers to continue their atrocities, and probably speeds the day when terrorists try the same tactic here in America.
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