As insurgents continue to develop more lethal means to attack U.S.
forces and allies in Iraq, both military and private security officials
have been conducting briefings on how to recognize and avoid the
ubiquitous threats of suicide bombs, roadside mines and ambushes.
According to a briefing crafted by Blackwater USA, one of the largest
private military firms, insurgents have effectively exploited the
vulnerabilities of U.S. military truck convoys. In one example,
a gun team initiates an ambush, bringing the convoy to a halt.
Terrorists draw fire to their side of the road while a second team
detonates a bomb, attacking the convoy from the rear.
This ambush takes advantage of a convoy commander’s tendency
to fix attention on the direction of incoming fire. In a variation
of the scenario, one team fires at the convoy while a rocket-propelled
grenade team waits under cover, before firing at the rear vehicle
and slipping away.
Alleyway ambushes also are common. An insurgent scout warns a gunman
of approaching vehicles. The gunman then fires at the passing vehicle
before escaping into a waiting car. This shoot-and-scoot tactic
has been used in both rural and urban areas.
Insurgents also have staged car accidents as a ruse to attack U.S.
troops and support forces, noted Blackwater experts who put together
the “terrorist modus operandi” briefing. In such cases,
the targeted vehicle is forced to stop because of a staged accident.
A crowd gathers, hemming in the target vehicle. On command, the
crowd parts allowing gunmen to fire before escaping into a waiting
vehicle. This tactic also has been used against security forces
vehicles and personnel responding to the accident. The insurgents’
use of the crowd limits the coalition’s ability to return
fire, because of concerns over civilian casualties.
Rolling ambushes also are a favored tactic of the Iraqi terrorists.
Gunmen hidden in an overlooking vantage point initiate the ambush.
Meanwhile, a blocking vehicle moves behind the convoy. Roadside
gunmen then rake vehicles as they pass, while the blocking vehicle
veers in front of the convoy to prevent escape.
Drive-by shootings and attacks from overpasses are common methods
employed by the Iraqi insurgents. The terrorist follows a target
vehicle, and then at an opportune moment overtakes it and fires
at it while the hostile vehicle passes.
Over time, Iraqi insurgent forces have adopted a steadily more
sophisticated mix of tactics, including manipulating the media,
linking asymmetric warfare to crime and looting, and relying on
methods of attack that provoke a disproportionate amount of fear
and terror, said Anthony Cordesman, an expert with the Center for
Strategic and International Studies.
At the same time, the Pentagon has been scrambling to find solutions
to defeat the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The Air Force,
for example, is relying on electronic-warfare systems aboard fighter
jets to set off IEDs along Iraqi roads, said Brig. Gen. Allison
A. Hickey, assistant deputy director of strategic planning on the
Air Staff. These EW technologies—traditionally used to disable
enemy air defenses—also can jam wireless doorbells or cell
phones that insurgents employ to detonate bombs.
But while technology can provide solutions and partly alleviate
the problem, it is more important to understand how the insurgency
works and adjust tactics, said Ben Riley, assistant deputy undersecretary
of defense for force protection.
“The IED is a symptom, but we need to treat the insurgency
problem,” he said. That means the U.S. military needs to relearn
counter-insurgency warfare, he stressed in a presentation to industry.
Insurgents have been using a mix of crude and sophisticated IEDs,
said Cordesman. “Hezbollah should be given credit for having
first perfected the use of explosives in well-structured ambushes,
although there is nothing new about such tactics,” he said.
“Iraq has, however, provided a unique opportunity for insurgents
and Islamist extremists to make extensive use of IEDs by exploiting
that nation’s massive stocks of arms.”
The attackers also learned to combine the extensive use of low
grade IEDs, more carefully targeted sophisticated IEDs and very
large car bombs to create a mix of threats and methods much more
difficult to counter than reliance on more consistent types of bombs
and target sets, Cordesman wrote in a study on the developing Iraqi
Furthermore, suicide bombings in Iraq have a major psychological
impact and gain exceptional media attention even though they are
not tactically necessary. The same explosion could be achieved by
remote control, Cordesman added.
Iraqi insurgents soon found that dispersed attacks on logistics
and support forces often offer a higher chance of success than attacks
on combat forces and defended sites.
At the same time, the insurgents realized that it is a lot easier
to kill Iraqi officials and security personnel, and their family
members than Americans, Cordesman said. “They also found it
was easier to kill mid-level officials than better-protected senior
officials,” he wrote.
Insurgents have been adept at learning the behavior of U.S. forces
and their Iraqi counterparts. Therefore, they have been exploiting
slow Iraqi and U.S. reaction times at the local tactical level,
particularly in built up areas.
“They learn to attack quickly and disperse,” Cordesman
said. Insurgents also take “advantage of any tendency to repeat
tactics, security, movement patterns and other behavior; find vulnerabilities
A key area of vulnerability insurgents have been able to focus
on is U.S. dependence on Iraqi translators and intelligence sources,
Weak points in the U.S. military structure are human intelligence,
battle damage assessment and damage characterization, Cordesman
contended. “Iraqi insurgents and other Islamist extremists
learned that U.S. intelligence is optimized around characterizing,
counting and targeting things, rather than people,” he said.
“The United States has poor capability to measure and characterize
infantry and insurgent numbers, wounded and casualties.”
Back in the United States, the Combating Terrorism Technology Task
Force, chaired by Riley, has been working with industry to fill
some of the gaps in technology that would ultimately aid human intelligence.
United States needs an end-to-end conceptual architecture for counter-insurgency
operations and IED defeat together with a systems analysis, engineering
and integration discipline, according to the task force.
Intelligence capability enhancements top the needs list. Information
operations and intelligence, including cultural and political intelligence,
should be integrated. The U.S. military also needs increased capabilities
to exploit captured enemy systems, Riley said in a presentation
Among critical research needs are data management and retrieval
capabilities, data fusion and language translation enhancements,
predictive behavioral analysis and enemy pattern assessment capabilities,
the integration of cultural and anthropological factors into intelligence
analysis and decision-making, and anticipatory understanding of
who will oppose stabilization efforts.