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US Military Works to Defuse Iraq's Deadly Roadside Bombs - 2003-12-09

In Iraq, roadside bombs targeting U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies have proven to be the most lethal weapon in the hands of attackers. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu spoke with members of a U.S. Army explosives disposal team in Baghdad about the difficulty of finding the roadside bombs before they explode.

Several dozen artillery shells and mortars from various countries are on display outside the base for the U.S. explosive ordnance disposal team, located in central Baghdad at what was once one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces.

Some of the shells and mortars are almost half a meter tall. Others are smaller. But team leader, Captain Larry Cousins, says the smaller ones are just as lethal if they are constructed in the right way.

Capt. Cousins says all the shells were used to make deadly roadside bombs.

"The vast majority of what we're seeing is military ordnance, projectiles, large caliber projectiles, and bulk explosives but it's Iraqi bulk explosives," he said. "It was bought by their military."

Capt. Cousins says the improvised explosive devices his team finds are usually simple in design, using mortar rounds or rocket-propelled grenades fitted with timers and set to explode at random.

Some are a bit more sophisticated, enabling them to be remotely detonated. Still, the disposal team here says it has so far never encountered a device its members could not safely defuse.

But if the attackers lack high-technology, the U.S. military acknowledges they are extremely clever when it comes to hiding the bombs.

One method the attackers have used is to encase bombs in concrete to resemble ordinary rocks. Another method has been to hide an explosive device underneath a dead animal on the road.

Capt. Cousins says such tactics are frustrating the U.S. military's bomb squads, which he says successfully defuse many more bombs than are detonated against U.S. troops on any given day.

"Camouflage is a big issue. A device can be constructed so that you just can't see it," he said. "So, the way it's discovered is when a U.S. convoy drives by and it detonates."

Members of Capt. Cousins' team say the best way to reduce the number of deadly roadside bombings in Iraq would be to prevent Iraqi insurgents from obtaining the weapons they use to make the bombs.

But that may be far easier said than done. The U.S. military says it currently lacks the manpower to properly secure hundreds of former Iraqi military weapon depots scattered across the country.