Pentagon Report Shows Huge Jump in IED Attacks in Afghanistan

The chart above shows monthly IED “incidents,” defined as IEDs placed by insurgents and either found or detonated, in Afghanistan from January 2004 to April this year. It comes from an alarming report from the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) that was provided to CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman.

The JIEDDO data shows an astounding jump in IED incidents occurred beginning summer 2009 - coinciding with the Marine offensive in the Helmand River Valley - and IED attacks have steadily mounted. There were more than 1,000 IED incidents during March, April and May of this year; nearly half of total incidents involved IEDs detonating. As the JIEDDO brief notes, a “significant number” of IEDs may have been emplaced but were never found or detonated.

The JIEDDO data shows “that IEDs have become the equivalent of the Stinger in allowing irregular forces to pose a major threat even to the most advanced military forces in the world,” Cordesman writes. While the jump in insurgent IED attacks is indeed alarming, the data does show some good news: “the counter-IED effort has kept successful attacks far below the rate of increase in total attacks.”

As can be seen from the chart labeled “Lethality of IEDs Over Time,” the number of deaths per IED attack has “stabilized” at below 20 percent since April 2009. In March of this year, 434 IEDs detonated, resulting in 22 coalition troops killed and 252 wounded. In April, 475 IEDs detonated, resulting in 17 killed and 230 wounded. In May, 544 IEDs detonated, killing 34 coalition troops and wounding 250.

Coalition troops casualty rates from IED attacks approaching 300 per month is a grim statistic. Yet, it is a marked improvement over casualty rates per incident from summer 2009. During July 2009, 450 IEDs detonated, killing 49 and wounding 237 coalition troops. The next month, 554 IEDs detonated, killing 55 troops and wounding 333.

The lower casualty rate is likely due to the fact that the military has rushed large numbers of IED resistant vehicles to Afghanistan; another reason might be due to an increase in available medevac flights for wounded troops.

One bit of data that is not so good: the percentage of IEDs turned in by local Afghans has actually declined over time and is running at below five percent of total incidents. A 2009 report from the Center for New American Security (CNAS) identified the number of IEDs reported by local Afghans as an important metric of success:

“[A] a rise in the proportion of IEDs being found and defused (especially when discovered thanks to tips from the local population) indicates that locals have a good working relationship with local military units—a sign of progress. Conversely, a drop in the proportion of IEDs found and cleared indicates the population is not passing on information to security forces, and is standing by while they are attacked—a sign of deteriorating security.”

— Greg Grant

  • blight

    I find it interesting as things heat up, at the same time the amount “found and cleared” went up. In the earlier datasets, the found and cleared is low but the relative percentage that is “ineffective” is high. And as the fight picks up, more are laid, but most are found before they’re a threat. That’s the silver lining, I suppose…

  • pedestrian

    The reason of the jump in IED is partially a result of improving Taliban logistics in Pakistan. I have been proposing the ban of ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate fertilizers in Afghanistan, which was accepted long ago, but Taliban is still able to maintain its IED production capabilities with rich stocks of these fertilizers flowing in Pakistan. I am now proposing to ban ammonium nitrate and potasium nitrate in Pakistan through several channels, but there is no update and known success that the government of Pakistan has accepted the banning of these fertilizers.

    I would also like to ask many others on this blog to consult through possible channels, even through e-mail to ask US government/NATO member officials to force Pakistan to ban ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate with introduction of laws to make it illegal to possess these, and at the same time, engage in a program to provide alternative fertilizers. I appreciate for any help.

    • blight

      Do you have sources that the insurgency is using ammonium nitrate for their IEDs?

      I doubt Afghanistan has the abundance of old artillery shells Iraq does, but it can’t be /that/ hard to find old Soviet stockpiles or stuff from Pakistan.

  • Bret Perry

    I am curious on the number of IED attacks on fuel and/or water resupply convoys. In the past, these convoys have been the target of most attacks. Hopefully, ISAF has adjusted their tactics to change this.

    • blight

      How? You can’t get around logistical constraints. Transporting mass supplies by truck is cheaper than sending by air. You can move a bundle by sea, then move it into Afghanistan by truck. By comparison, you can send a lot less by air, but if you need it yesterday air is your best bet.

      I imagine we could have gun trucks in the convoys like in VN. Or use lots of UAVs for security. Every time a group moves to ambush, just follow them back to their hidey-hole and give them a Hellfire.

      • Bret Perry

        What if we adopted a point of service systems. Basically, instead of shipping things out to all of the units, we would have different outposts stationed throughout the country. When troops need ammo, fuel, and supplies, they would go to the facility, load up, and move back out. A friend compared it to “a trading post on the American frontier.” I think it should be examined more.

        • @Earlydawn

          You’re still moving a convoy from one facility to another. In the service station model, you’re just expanding the number of installations that you have to support and protect against attack, thereby expanding the required personnel footprint.

          • Bret Perry

            Yes, this will require more soldiers. However, I think that these “guard” duties could easily be contracted to Western PMC(s). If “proper” guards are chosen (NOT locals that would be prone to manipulation), then this could possibly work out. It would cost more, but in theory, less casualties would occur.

          • @Earlydawn

            It’s difficult to formally evaluate this idea, but my gut reaction is that you’d probably get more casualties. Think of it this way; you still have just as many vehicles on the road to ferry supplies, whether the logistics train moves “upstream” or “downstream”. On top of that, you’re probably doubling your number of bases, which subsequently require more convoys to keep *them* supplied and secured. More bases mean more attacks. More attacks means more boots needed on the ground for security. More boots means more supplies. Death spiral.

            All that aside, do you really want to shift more responsibility (and limited budget) to PMCs? That dark horse reared it’s head in Iraq, and I think most reasonable people were put off by it. Autonomous private sector militarized units are scary, no matter who they’re working for.

      • Yes Sir Soldier

        I’m pretty sure we’re contracting out a lot of the convoy security to the locals already, so I think running gun trucks isn’t within our current capacity. As for UAVs, if we can’t supply seriously vulnerable FOBs with them, something tells me there just aren’t enough to go around. At some point the strains of being stretched too thin will always become apparent.

  • Matt Holzmann

    we are already using UAV’s to scout insurgent IED teams and the resources we are using to try and defeat them are considerable. Even then, they are still a step ahead.

    We used to have something called landmines that we used very successfully to interdict infiltration and shape the battlefield. Unfortunately, Princess Di thought they were a bad idea and we don’t use them anymore.

    An easier way to take the battle back to the enemy would be to sprinkle some landmines, especially little nasties, along the infiltration paths from Pakistan, including inside Pakistan. That would really bum them out. Every Tolly-bon with a missing leg or foot taken out on their way to the battlefield is 2 less to deal with in Afghanistan.

    • Jim

      The US has not ceased its use of Landmines (AP). Its not very wise to plant them where civilians/children are likely to transit through. It makes you very unpopular with the locals.

      • praetorian

        Buy Chinese land mines and blame the pakistani military for planting them. Heck,
        the Pakistani’s are playing both sides anyways.

      • blight

        To clarify:

        The United States continues to use temporary land mine systems (volcano, and other submunition systems)

        With regards to “permanent” landmines, the United States will only use them on the DMZ.

  • Matt Musson

    Any news on Darpa’s remote IED exploader?

  • @Earlydawn

    I really can’t help but think that the IED problem dies with the next tier of drone evolution. Granted, a lot of FCS was dead on arrival, but what happened to the big decentralized networks of smaller aerial drones? Predators and Reapers have already shown their value in COIN operations. He who sees more, wins more.

    • Yes Sir Soldier

      I hope you’re right, but I’m not sure about being wiped out altogether…they don’t call it an arms race for nothing, after all. The people sniffers used in Vietnam were spoofed by the Viet Minh with ease, and HARM munitions were lured by simple microwave ovens in Bosnia. While visual systems may be tricker to circumvent, I can think offhand of a few tactical ruses to at least overload such a device with false hits.

  • Oblat

    I knew I’d seen that graph somewhere else. It’s the same as the US aid to Pakistan graph.

    • @Earlydawn

      A swing and a miss.

    • Ian James

      Obvious troll is obvious

  • Russ

    Half of the counter IED battle is traffic management. Gtiing the Joes to follow your recommendation s is always a problem.
    Had two vehicles hit on my patch even after telling them it was High Risk; it was shortest route home. No fatalities but did get their attention that if I said ‘bad route’ they avoied.

    Mind been on the other end where an ‘admin’ route which is supposedly check and cleared daily was on the the combat team low priority list and they had actually got and IED on soak !