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Counter-IED Strategy In Modern War - United States Army

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Counter-IED Strategyin Modern WarCaptain David F. Eisler, U.S. ArmyIN THE YEARS since improvised explosive devices (IEDs) becamesymbols of asymmetric warfare and modern military conflict, very littlehas changed in the realm of counter-improvised explosive device (C-IED)strategy. The military is always searching for better vehicles and equipmentto defeat what is, at its core, a homemade device made for a fraction of thecost of our technological countermeasures. As a result, C-IED strategy hasprimarily focused on developing new ways to mitigate the effects of an IEDblast rather than trying to prevent it from occurring. Billions of dollars havebeen spent in the name of saving lives, yet the true cause of the problemand its origins remain largely ignored, leaving out the crucial role played bypopulation-centric counterinsurgency operations.The Nature of the ProblemCaptain David F. Eisler, U.S. Army,was the leader of the counter-IED cellfor the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in support of Operation Enduring Freedomin Zabul, Afghanistan (OEF X-XI). Hepreviously deployed with the regimentto Diyala, Iraq, in 2008. He holds a B.A.from Cornell University.PHOTO: U.S. Army SPC Glenn Escano, right, speaks with an Iraqi policeofficer while conducting a sweep forimprovised explosive devices alongthe Baghdad-Diyala Highway in Baghdad, Iraq, 4 October 2009. (1LT JoshRisher, U.S. Army)When elements of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment arrived in Zabul Province,Afghanistan, in July 2010, they faced an area of operations that had seenconstantly increasing IED activity for several years in the same spots alongHighway 1, an important maneuver corridor running from Kandahar City toKabul. Casualties quickly mounted as IEDs with large net explosive weightsdetonated on convoys and route clearance vehicles, destroying even the largest of their kind. The insurgents had the propaganda victory they sought byobliterating American “tanks,” and security forces were scrambling to stopthe bleeding and maintain freedom of movement.Initial counter-IED plans sought to facilitate the relief in place between twoRomanian battalions conducting operations along the highway. Conceived asa means to deter enemy IED emplacement, the plan was simple—flood theengagement areas with security forces, occupy established checkpoints, andmaintain near constant surveillance to interdict any attempted insurgent activity on the most dangerous sections of the road. A combined arms approachintegrated route clearance platoons with organic maneuver units to patrolthe highway. Improvised explosive device activity decreased rapidly despiteinsurgent attempts to exploit the seams of units’ battle spaces and emplaceIEDs in the least-patrolled and least-overwatched areas.MILITARY REVIEW January-February 20129

The mission was considered a success. TheRomanian battalions were able to conduct theirtransfer of authority, and overall insurgent IEDactivity on the previously lethal sections of theroad remained mostly low or ineffective, evenduring the usual summer fighting surge in southernAfghanistan. The presence of security forces alongthe highway decreased in favor of operations inother areas, and the IED threat was believed to bemostly pacified.Yet, the IEDs never really went away. A fewmonths later, in the period leading up to the provincial elections in September, new engagement areaswere steadily appearing just outside the previouslyestablished boundaries of the first operation. ByNovember, the same sections of the road had reemerged as the most dangerous routes in the areaof operations as over 1,500 pounds of homemadeexplosives detonated in the course of only a fewdays. With the arrival of spring in 2011, IED activity resumed in the same areas it had taken placeduring the previous three years. Initial suppressionoperations had succeeded in temporarily relievingthe pressure, but failed to address the true sourceof the IED problem–the pervading influence andsupport of a homegrown local insurgency.Security and InfluenceThe first step for any counterinsurgent is tosecure the population against the intimidationand influence of the insurgency. Doctrine (andconventional wisdom) argue that the surest wayto accomplish this is by establishing a persistentpartnership with local security forces and livingamong the population. Merely conducting weeklyvisits and key leader engagements with local eldersand officials may provide insights into governanceand development issues, but they achieve few lasting effects unless the people feel safe.Because both sides of a modern asymmetricconflict must continuously vie for the supportof the local population, the counterinsurgent candevelop a baseline security assessment of an areaby tracking reports of insurgent activity againstcivilians. In this case, distinguishing betweenactive anti-civilian and passive anti-civilian activity is critical. Active anti-civilian activity caninclude intimidation, forced taxation, and isolationthrough the emplacement of mine or IED obstacle10belts that limit the population’s freedom of movement. Clearly, counterinsurgents cannot engage insuch activity because it would lead to a completeloss of popular support and bring a swift end totheir efforts. Insurgents, on the other hand, mayuse these tactics to increase their control and influence in a given area. Popular support need not begiven happily, but it must be at a level to ensurethat the influence of government security forcesand the people’s desire for economic and essentialservices aid never outweigh their fear of insurgentretribution or punishment. As an example, therehave been cases in which the Taliban senior leadership replaced insurgent commanders becausethey were thought to have been too harsh on localcivilians and therefore a threat to the insurgency’spopular support.1 The most successful insurgentcommanders know to use intimidation only whennecessary to maintain their control of the people.Consequently, areas experiencing limited insurgent intimidation are more likely to be insurgentdominated support zones than areas with highernumbers of reports, especially in places witha significant International Security AssistanceForces (ISAF) or Afghan National Security Forces(ANSF) presence.In this regard, the term “freedom of influence”is introduced in order to more precisely definethe variable that the insurgents use to controlthe population. Whereas freedom of movementdescribes the ability of a maneuver element toproject combat power at a chosen time, space, andpurpose, freedom of influence reflects the capability of the insurgent or counterinsurgent to engagewith and directly affect the local population’sattitudes, opinions, and perceptions.In the situation described earlier, although ISAFand ANSF security forces were able to maintaintheir freedom of movement by conducting disruption and interdiction operations along Highway 1,the insurgents held their freedom of influence onthe population in the surrounding villages. This areas experiencing limitedinsurgent intimidation are morelikely to be insurgent-dominated January-February 2012 MILITARY REVIEW

C O U N T E R - I E D S T R AT E G Yled to a continuously accessible support zone justoutside the operational boundaries and focus offriendly security patrols. The early positive effectsthey achieved did not translate into lasting securitygains, leaving the next rotation of units open to thesame dangers as before.Measuring Success(1LT Josh Risher, U.S. Army)In a field replete with numbers, statistics, metrics, and assessments, defining a true measureof success for C-IED operations and strategyis difficult. The standard model tends to weighheavily the number of IEDs found and cleared bysecurity forces against the number that detonate.The underlying assumption is that an increasedpercentage of IEDs found and cleared meansthat insurgent forces are less effective with theirIED emplacements, and that friendly forces haveadapted to enemy tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). Further analysis looks at the rate atwhich the percentage of cleared IEDs increases ordecreases, which measures how quickly friendlyforces are adapting to changes in insurgent tactics(or, conversely, how slowly the insurgents arechanging their tactics to match the counterinsurgents’ countermeasures). Another way of lookingat the problem is to assess the effectiveness of IEDdetonations by determining how many IED strikesdamage vehicles or cause casualties. However,most of these methods are better for identifyingcontested areas rather than assessing a district’soverall security because IED activity will typicallymirror any increased presence of security forces.Additional methodologies of quantitative andqualitative data analysis attempt to track overallsecurity trends at both a provincial and districtlevel. Unfortunately, most of these are defined interms of counterinsurgent activity rather than thatof the civilian population. For example, a “routestatus matrix” provides commanders with a graphical depiction of freedom of movement on primaryand secondary roads based on recent IED activity(normally an aggregate set against ISAF and ANSFpatrols) as well as deliberate clearance operations conducted by engineers and route clearanceplatoons. However, this matrix does not considerfreedom of movement of local traffic, which couldpresent a vastly different picture if an insurgent hasdecided not to limit the security forces’ freedom ofmovement but rather to maintain his own freedomof influence by placing obstacle belts between thepopulation and the roads.U.S. Army soldiers train for IED detection in Baghdad, Iraq, 4 October 2009.MILITARY REVIEW January-February 201211

A local population willing to point out the locations of explosivematerials could indicate security gains in that area The metric perhaps least reminiscent of classicand modern counterinsurgency doctrine is trackingthe number of high-valued individuals (HVIs) killedor captured in raids or direct attacks. Those classified as HVIs are normally senior insurgent militarycommanders or shadow government leaders withinfluence within the Taliban. They are rarely, ifever, low-level insurgents actually conducting theattacks. Such individuals are considered expendableand easily replaceable.Yet throughout the last several years, insurgentnetworks have grown increasingly larger and moreinterconnected. Finding an irreplaceable leader orpersonality has proven nearly impossible. Littlequantitative data exists to support the hypothesisthat HVI targeting operations have any measurablelong-term effect on levels of insurgent activity;their operations may slow down or even cease afterthey lose a key leader or explosives expert, but it isonly a matter of time before the void is filled andoperations resume. Treating the symptoms does notcure the disease.However, one metric may effectively measuresecurity gains in the Afghan counterinsurgencyconflict and modern asymmetric conflict in general,particularly at the local or district level—IEDsturned in or reported by civilians. In these instances,a local national provides unsolicited information toISAF or ANSF forces that leads to the discoveryof an IED or its components. Care must be takento distinguish an unsolicited tip from that of a paidinformant or source. While an informant may provide potentially reliable information, there havebeen cases of sources intentionally emplacingweapons or explosive materials themselves and thenleading security forces to the cache site simply tocollect a monetary reward.The importance of an IED turned in by a civilian comes from the direct interaction between thatperson and representatives of the government,particularly if the device is turned in to the AfghanNational Army, police, or local governance centers.A local population willing to point out the locations12of explosive materials could indicate security gainsin that area, especially if the area already has ahigh level of insurgent IED activity. The more thepeople feel that the government can protect themand provide better stability than the insurgents, thegreater the stake they have in their own securityagainst insurgent intimidation. Similar developments led to the beginning of the highly successfulSunni Awakening and the Sons of Iraq program inlate 2006, as well as the onset of the Afghan LocalPolice program in 2010.The most successful C-IED operations nestwithin counterinsurgency strategy and doctrine.They do not focus on the devices themselves, buton the population. A company-sized element thatmoves into villages adjacent to a primary IEDengagement area and remains there for an extendedperiod, habitually interacting with the villagers andconducting key leader engagements, should beginto see security gains in the form of local nationaltips and turn-ins. In some cases, a lack of availablemaneuver units can limit combat power for suchoperations, forcing commanders to attempt to coverlarge areas and reducing the number of possibleengagements with the people. However, in the end,a continuous presence somewhere is better than afleeting presence everywhere. As the people beginto believe that the security will be lasting and notjust temporary, they are more likely to provide intelligence and turn against the insurgency.2An area with a large ISAF presence, and consequently an increased amount of violent activity,but with no increase in IEDs turned in is cause forconcern. Villages with a higher number of turn-inslikely feel more connected to their government andsecurity forces and are more willing to take a directstand against the insurgency. Conversely, low turnin areas may fear intimidation and retaliation forassisting security forces and would rather hold theirtongue and remain isolated than fight back. In thatcase, the insurgent influence in the area is probablystrong enough that the people fear the repercussionsof cooperating with the government more thanJanuary-February 2012 MILITARY REVIEW

C O U N T E R - I E D S T R AT E G Ythey seek its protection. Special attention shouldbe paid to IED events within a short distance of avillage, since the people in the village likely knewsomething about the device and its emplacement,but were too afraid to say anything. These eventsare far too common and must be countered bycomprehensive counterinsurgency operations.Each explosive detonation against ISAF orANSF is a psychological victory for the insurgency, demonstrating the weakness of the government and its inability to provide security andstability for its people. The government mustconvince the people, especially their influentialcommunity and religious leaders, that the insurgency poses the greater threat to their villagesand people. All too often, the sporadic presenceof security forces in an area leads to a rapid spikeof activity in response, conditioning the people toassociate the government with increased violence.To actively engage the population and garner support against the insurgency, the counterinsurgentmust overcome this mindset.Separating the people from the influence of theirgovernment is one of the primary objectives foran insurgency in order to maintain its influenceover the population free from outside intervention. Afghanistan expert Seth Jones notes that “bythreatening the population, the insurgents giveindividuals a strong rationale to refuse or refrainfrom cooperating with the indigenous governmentand external actors.”3 Successful counterinsurgency operations must aim to defeat this insurgentinfluence.The first step in that process is security; a population can never have faith in its government if itis not trusted to provide even basic protection. Aperiodic presence will not suffice, since the insurgents can (and usually do) wait until a patrol hasleft the area to aggressively counter any positiverelations and reclaim their control of the people.Only persistent security during the initial stages ofoperations can set the conditions to tip the balanceof support in favor of the government and awayfrom the insurgents.(SGT Shawnon Lott, U.S. Army)Separating the Insurgent,Attacking the NetworkAn Iraqi police officer bags evidence while participating inan improvised explosive device exploitation search during a two-week training course run by Task Force Nassirat Combat Outpost Cashe North, Iraq, 13 February 2010.MILITARY REVIEW January-February 2012Successfully securing the population will leadto the separation of the insurgent, as the insurgencyrequires the support of the people to survive. Oneof the key advances in modern counterinsurgencyhas been the application of biometric and forensicintelligence to catch an elusive enemy capableof blending in with the population. Biometricenrollments have become part of campaign plans,and the addition of law enforcement personneland trained explosive ordnance disposal technicians has provided units with increasingly moreinformation about the construction and origins ofIEDs through their detailed post-blast analysis.Separately, biometrics and post-blast analysiseach provide invaluable intelligence unavailableto previous generations of counterinsurgents, buttheir benefits become even more evident whencombined.Conducting independent biometric enrollmentsis an excellent way to build a database of citizensbut by itself does not separate the insurgent from13

the population except in certain rare cases.4 Similarly, comprehensive post-blast analysis providesa wealth of information about IED constructionand composition, often including fingerprints andother biometric data found at the scene of an event,but ends short of positive identification. Althoughlatent fingerprints can be matched to others foundin different events, they provide little informationabout the actual person emplacing or constructingthe devices.When biometrics and post-blast analysis merge,they have the capability to truly separate the insurgent. Fingerprints recovered from IED materials inone area can be linked to a specific person enrolledsomewhere else, painting a more detailed pictureof the device’s origin and defining the insurgentnetwork more clearly. Such success depends ontraining units to treat each IED event not as animpediment to maneuver that they need to breach orclear, but as a legitimate crime scene with valuableforensic evidence available to catch the perpetratorand identify his supplier.Education for indigenous and coalition securityforces as well as the local population is paramountto understanding how both biometrics and postblast analysis can be used to isolate the insurgentsfrom innocents, identifying those who act againstthe interests of the people and the government. Arobust biometrics and forensics program should beat the forefront of any “attack the network” strategybecause it can link explosive events to their locations on the battlefield and potentially provide theidentity of those responsible. Developing a pictureof these low-level insurgent networks is the key tounderstanding the origins of the explosive devicesand identifying the supply chains that support them.Ultimately, the true goal of biometrics and forensics is to develop the rule of law through the hostnation government and judicial system. Evidencecollected from explosive materials or post-blastanalysis can help convict criminals in local courts.Warrants and arrests are the direct result of a concerted effort by ground units in partnership withindigenous security forces to conduct a thoroughinvestigation of an event rather than clearing thescene and moving on to the next objective. Thegratification may not be as instant as catching aninsurgent in the act, but the long-term effects areconsiderably more beneficial.14Despite the potential advantages of quicklyenrolling an entire population into a biometricsdatabase, care must be taken to ensure that indigenous security forces take the lead in all biometricsoperations to avoid the perception of continuousforeign intervention and the systematic cataloguingof local citizens. More direct action on the part ofISAF forces runs the risk of aggravating the verypopulation they mean to protect, while host nationforces can build relationships with the local civilians while conducting a legitimate census. This hasthe added benefit of engaging many communitiesthat traditionally do not see a regular ANSF presence. Although biometrics collection is an importantelement of C-IED strategy, it should not come atthe expense of alienating the people.Attacking the network through a concertedevidence and biometrics collection effort is an integral aspect of C-IED strategy, yet it must complement rather than substitute for counterinsurgencyoperations. Understanding the difference betweenactively targeting insurgent nodes and indirectlyeroding their support and influence through thepopulation is important. While analyzing insurgentTTP and attack methods will certainly providevaluable information to ground units conductingoperations, it does not eliminate the source of thethreat. A constantly evolving game of spy-versusspy only circumvents the issue, showing no signsof ending as both insurgent and counterinsurgentvie for the tactical upper hand.Final ThoughtsMilitary strategy in Afghanistan has scarcelychanged since the early days of hunting the Talibanin 2001. Even today, we place more emphasisand attention on targeting operations designed tocrumble insurgent networks than on populationcentric counterinsurgency. Improvised explosivedevices are considered a lamentable byproduct ofthe insurgent’s general unwillingness to engagein direct action. Technological advances continueto flow into theater to guard against increasinglysophisticated and dangerous threats that, in spiteof the new technology, continue to injure and killsoldiers and civilians.Both of these methods—targeting and technology—are essentially defensive and reactive in nature.Even operations against Taliban leaders and facilitaJanuary-February 2012 MILITARY REVIEW

(CPL Michael Augusto, U.S. Marine Corps)C O U N T E R - I E D S T R AT E G YA U.S. marine uses a portable two-way radio to call in a possible improvised explosive device during a training exerciseat Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, 20 February 2011.tors seek to reduce insurgent capability to conductattacks, their success measured in complicatedslides, graphs, and charts arranged in whateverway best represents progress. IEDs are simply theweapon of choice to support the insurgents’ political cause, facilitating consolidation of power andinfluence from within the population.Although counter-IED strategy is a microcosm of counterinsurgency, our intelligence andoperations groups sometimes treat it as a separatefunction, preferring to develop new methods todefeat the device (or its intended effects) ratherthan understand it. The tools needed to effectivelyneutralize IEDs as a battlefield threat will not befound in technological systems or equipment, norin killing insurgent leaders, but rather in buildingrelationships with the people who have becomethe battleground for all modern military conflicts.Their silence speaks as loudly as the next explosion. MRNOTES1. Anand Gopal, “The Battle for Afghanistan—Militancy and Conflict in Kandahar,”New America Foundation, November 2010, 27.2. See for example the Canadian’s experience in Kandahar in 2009; Carl Forsberg,“The Taliban’s Campaign for Kandahar,” The Institute for the Study of War, December2009, 52.MILITARY REVIEW January-February 20123. Seth G. Jones, Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, RAND CounterinsurgencyStudy: Volume 4 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2008), 49-50.4. David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (SantaBarbara, CA: Praeger Security International, 1964), 82.15

Feb 29, 2012 · long-term effect on levels of insurgent activity; their operations may slow down or even cease after they lose a key leader or explosives expert, but it is only a matter of time before the void is filled and operations resume. Treating the symptoms does not cure