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IEDs and the Failure to Adapt
The Washington Post has devoted an inordinate amount of space to get into the nitty-gritty of one of the largest structural difficulties facing the military in the new wars it will be fighting-ability to adapt quickly to low-tech enemies.

The two-part series looks at the effectiveness of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and the long, late, multi-billion dollar effort by the military-ultimately unsuccessful-to combat them. IEDs are responsible for the vast bulk of the U.S. casualties in Iraq, and are increasingly used in Afghanistan as well. It has become the weapon of choice, along with suicide bombings, of the Islamist insurgencies.

(For a fascinating look at how the bombs are build, see this NEFA Foundation footage taken at a Taliban training camp just a few miles from Kabul.

One of the problems is the huge reliance, both in the combat theater and the intelligence community, on technology. This is highly useful in some areas, but it others it is far less useful than human resources, particularly human intelligence gathering capabilities.

The growing reliance on technology, or the inability to look for non-technological solutions to problems was highlighted by the 9/11 commission and other reports. It is still not being addressed in a significant manner.

The key paragraphs of the series, to me, are the following:

_"Insurgents have shown a cycle of adaptation that is short relative to the ability of U.S. forces to develop and field IED countermeasures," a National Academy of Sciences paper concluded earlier this year._
_An American electrical engineer who has worked in Baghdad for more than two years was blunter: "I never really feel like I'm ahead of the game."_

_The IED struggle has become a test of national agility for a lumbering military-industrial complex fashioned during the Cold War to confront an even more lumbering Soviet system. "If we ever want to kneecap al-Qaeda, just get them to adopt our procurement system. It will bring them to their knees within a week," a former Pentagon official said._

"We all drank the Kool-Aid," said a retired Army officer who worked on counter-IED issues for three years. "We believed, and Congress was guilty as well, that because the United States was the technology powerhouse, the solution to this problem would come from science. That attitude was 'All we have to do is throw technology at it and the problem will go away.' . . . The day we lose a war it will be to guys with spears and loincloths, because they're not tied to technology. And we're kind of close to being there."

This, again, is not new. During the Central American wars the FMLN started using Soviet-made mines to hurt the army. The U.S. supplied the army with mine detectors. The FMLN countered, after some trial and error, with mines made out of PVC tubing, entirely undetectable by the high-tech mine detectors.

The same was true with rebel communications. When the U.S. provided jamming devices for FMLN communications, the rebels discovered they could transmit over the barbed wire that encircled many of the fields, again bypassing the high-tech jamming devices.

We will be fighting small, counter-insurgency wars for the next century. There has to be at least a part of the intelligence and military establishments that can develop the flexibility and the capacity to do things the old fashioned, low-tech way-developing personal relationships, learning local languages and customs, getting a granular feel for the country in which they are engaged.

There are many brave folks over their fighting, and I have been privileged to deal with the Special Forces and others in the military establishment. I don't think anyone would argue that, in the current climate and situations likely to last decades at least, that we need the low tech, not to replace the high tech, but to compliment it. It is getting late in the game to be this far behind in the adaptation arena.
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