The head of the U.S. government team working to combat roadside bombs used by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan says the effort has sharply reduced the effectiveness of the deadly devices. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
Retired General Montgomery Meigs was brought back to the Pentagon to lead the anti-bomb effort two years ago. Now, as he ends his assignment, he says a combination of technology, intelligence and better training for U.S. troops has made coalition forces much safer than they were.
"With people working 24/7 it's really hard to get precise data, but we've certainly lowered the ability of the enemy to hurt our soldiers in Iraq by a factor of five," he noted.
The military calls the bombs IEDs, Improvised Explosive Devices. Usually, they are placed by insurgents alongside or under roads, but they have also been placed in garbage dumps, abandoned buildings and many other locations, even inside dead animals. The IEDs are primitive, but effective. They have been the biggest killers of U.S. troops in Iraq.
But according to General Meigs, the number of bombs being planted is down 55 percent since April, and the number of U.S. casualties from the bombs is falling as well.
"Commanders in the field are telling us that the impact is significant," he added. "And we know that soldiers and marines are going to the field better trained, better equipped, and our campaign against enemy networks is much more effective than it was two years ago."
At a farewell news conference, General Meigs provided a chart indicating the number of IED attacks per day is down from a high of 60 in May to about 25 now.
The general also reported that in Iraq, on average, two years ago one American was injured for every bomb planted. Now, he says, with fewer bombs planted and more of them being found or exploding harmlessly, the average is one American injured for every five bombs planted.
He reports the trends are moving the other direction in Afghanistan. For security reasons, he did not provide specific numbers.
General Meigs acknowledges that not all of the improvement in Iraq is related to his team's work. He attributes some of it to the surge of U.S. forces, and some to what has become known as "The Awakening," the change of allegiance by many Iraqis from the insurgency to the government. The change has resulted in many more tips to Iraqi and U.S. forces, enabling them to find more bombs before they can be detonated, to also find more bomb factories and storage facilities, and to kill or capture more insurgents.
But the general also takes some credit for the billions of dollars his team has invested in technical systems to detect bombs and to block electronic signals that often detonate them. Now, General Meigs is worried that the dispute between the Congress and the White House about war funding will delay further high tech advances.
"We will be out of money for anything new by the end of this month [November]," he explained. "A variety of projects that we would be starting today will be delayed getting to the field by the amount of time it takes for us to eventually be funded."
Some members of Congress say the Pentagon has enough money in other accounts to keep the anti-IED effort going, even if the budget remains stalled. But officials say they do not have the authority to move enough money to fund all their critical programs.
And General Meigs says fighting IEDs is not all about technology. He says finding and destroying insurgent networks also plays a role, and he says better training for U.S. troops on what to look for along Iraq's roads may be the most important factor.
But the general says there is much more work to do.
"The Department of Defense is going to be in this business for a long, long time," he noted. "They're not going to put any service member in any part of the world that has any inkling of this kind of threat without countermeasures, without very careful intelligence preparation and some training of the individuals so they can see what's coming at them."
General Meigs says his successor will face challenges from deeply buried IEDs, and bombs activated by very thin buried wires, both of which are particularly difficult to detect or disable. And he says advances in technology that enable people to use a variety of wireless devices in everyday life also provide insurgents with new ways to send detonation signals to their bombs. He says U.S. experts will have to constantly update their technology and training to deal with the threat.