Friday, February 19, 2010

Roadside bombs taking bigger toll in Afghanistan

By Deshakalyan Chowdhury, AFP/Getty Images
Dutch soldiers check for unexploded IEDs during a patrol in Chora valley in Afghanistan's southern Uruzgan province on Jan. 21.

WASHINGTON — Winter weather failed to deter insurgents from stepping up roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan, as both blasts and casualties among U.S. and allied troops in January more than doubled from a year earlier, Pentagon data show.

Coalition troops found 727 bombs in January compared with 276 in the same month of 2009. Blasts killed 32 U.S. and allied troops and wounded 137 others, compared with 14 deaths and 64 injuries in January 2009, according to the data. These bombs are the top killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

In previous years, winter was a slow season for Taliban and insurgent attacks in Afghanistan.

Over the weekend, U.S.-led forces launched the largest offensive in the eight-year war to oust the Taliban from their southern stronghold of Marjah. Coalition and Afghan troops encountered only sporadic resistance from insurgents Sunday. The biggest threat to them: hundreds of mines and roadside bombs planted by the Taliban before the offensive.

British Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Messenger said Sunday that coalition troops had found a number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and local residents had provided tips on where others were buried.

It appears that the Taliban have been forced into relative inactivity, although in the next few days they could get their breath back," he said. "There is also the residual IED threat."

Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, said in an interview that combating IEDs may be a "tougher nut to crack" in Afghanistan than in Iraq because Afghan insurgents who plant the devices are motivated more by allegiance to local power brokers than by money, as is the case in Iraq.

"The workforce is loyal to its boss," he said.

The current fighting is taking place in an area that has few roads, so troops often must leave their vehicles to patrol villages. Insurgents target those troops with bombs that detonate when stepped on.

The coalition command said one U.S. soldier and another from Britain had died in the offensive so far. Oates said the insurgents' tactics will likely result in more casualties in the "mid-term." After security is better established, residents will be more likely to provide tips on bombmakers and device locations, he said. In the meantime, Oates said troops will rely on bomb-sniffing dogs, metal detectors and surveillance of problem areas by aircraft to avoid blasts.

No comments:

Post a Comment