by JASON REICH
The Taliban are an adaptive and learning enemy. Soldiers in Afghanistan had been telling me this since I arrived in August. A report from The Washington Times, revealing the Taliban tactic of using “plastic” IEDs to avoid detection, illustrates this perfectly.
Over at Combat Outpost Blackhawk, where I was embedded with soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Task Force Spartan, I met a State Department police mentor who, in addition to his 25 years as a patrol officer in a large U.S. city, had spent three years in Iraq teaching Iraqi police counter-IED tactics. I’m not able to publish his name, but the grizzled 60-year-old-former Marine, who was in better shape than most of the soldiers I met, had a wealth of knowledge to share on the Taliban’s deadly, yet simplistic IED tactics.
Based on crater analysis that he conducted from IED strikes on our convoys, he noted that the explosive of choice for the Taliban in our area was ammonium nitrate, commonly found in fertilizer, which makes sense in this heavily farmed region. “Just because it’s not military-grade explosive doesn’t mean it’s any less deadly,” he explained to me. “It just means it’s more dangerous to work with.” That could explain the surprisingly frequent reports of “work accidents” that killed quite a few Taliban in Wardak earlier in the summer.
But the key element behind these plastic bombs is simply the delivery system: plastic jugs. The amount of metal required is minimal, since they are designed to destroy vehicles, not kill dismounted soldiers. You kill vehicles with blast, and soldiers with metal shrapnel. The IEDs targeting dismounts are smaller and even easier to make than vehicle-killing bombs. They are often just old Soviet mines planted at an angle towards the expected patrol. They don’t even need to be hidden, since they’re triggered a good distance away from the patrolling soldiers and rely on their shrapnel to do the damage.
The tactics and counter-tactics in the IED fight are always changing. As the summer draws to a close in Afghanistan, the Taliban seem to be one small step ahead.
(Photo: memorial service for Specialist Justine Pellerin, killed by an IED in Wardak; photo by Jason Reich)
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