- The Washington Times
Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Insurgents in Afghanistan have changed tactics in how they place deadly improvised explosive devices (IEDs), prompting a war-veteran congressman to propose a relatively simple technique to find and detonate them.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Marine Corps reserve officer who saw combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, noted that Marines and soldiers are being maimed and killed by foot-deep pressure-activated mines.

The Taliban is creating belts of such IEDs around villages that U.S. troops approach by foot. Mr. Hunter said the IED ring is a relatively new implement in the 10-year-old war.

The enemy had put more focus on burying much larger explosives along roads to blow up armored vehicles and kill multiple troops in one blast.

But in a cat-and-mouse contest, the U.S. became skilled at constantly monitoring roads using high-flying spy aircraft, spotting bomb placers and then calling in helicopter gunships to kill them.

“You don’t hear of very many vehicle kills anymore,” Mr. Hunter, California Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Washington Times. “We’ve kind of fought that battle and won it.”

Yet the Taliban is resilient.

“What they’ve now done is put pressure plates, basically land mines, like the Viet Cong used to do, in defensive perimeters around the villages,” Mr. Hunter said. “Our Marines walk through, and there is enough explosive to either kill the Marine or solider or take off two legs, or one leg or two legs and an arm. Sometimes killing them. Sometimes not.”

IEDs are the biggest killers of U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, accounting for at least 57 percent of battlefield fatalities each year since 2007. This year, of 93 allied fatalities, of which 79 were U.S., 57 came from IEDs, according to the website iCasualties.org.

Several weeks ago, Mr. Hunter and a private contractor discussed a simple solution: Provide each Marine approaching a village on foot with a heavy robot affixed with a 3-foot-wide conveyor belt. The Marine could remotely control the vehicle so it travels far enough ahead of him that a triggered blast would not injure any troops.

Mr. Hunter’s idea was buttressed over the weekend when he went bird hunting with Marines wounded by IEDs. They told him some Marines have requested that their families send them toy trucks that they could weigh down and use like bomb-detonating robots.

“When I talked to Marines Saturday, they were all floored,” he said. “That is exactly what they have been asking for.”

Mr. Hunter said he recently discussed the robot idea with Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition. He said Mr. Carter said he would look into it.

The Pentagon had no immediate comment.

“This is one of those things that is very simple,” Mr. Hunter said. “It’s going to make our government look completely idiotic for not implementing this or at least trying to.”

Now in his second term, Mr. Hunter has been a leading advocate in Congress for continually changing counter-IED tactics to match the enemy’s.

He saw in Iraq how the 2006 creation of a special unit, the Army’s Task Force ODIN (observe, detect, identify, neutralize), helped turn the tide of battle. The task force took a new approach: patrol roads in high-flying spy planes, catch the people planting the bombs in the act and kill them.

The Pentagon’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization has spent billions of dollars on various gadgets designed to defeat IEDs by detecting or jamming the weapons’ electronics.

In recent months, some commanders have expressed the view that a simpler approach is needed - such as assigning a bomb-sniffing dog to every patrol.

Mr. Hunter said he thinks he succeeded last year in pressing the Pentagon to put ODIN-type task forces in Afghanistan.

Now the department needs a simpler approach to defeat the village land mine, he said.

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