IED as a Weapon of Strategic Influence: Creating the Blackwater Nightmare

Abu Muqawama has a smart post on IEDs as Weapons of Strategic Influence, something I’ve talked about before. However, what he and others have missed is the role IEDs have had not just on American military force posture — using armored Humvees and MRAPs (scroll down to find reference) — but also of the entire Coalition, including private military contractors, highlighted by recent events that have dramatically altered the narrative and focus of the entire mission in Iraq, as well as the tools used in the execution of that mission.

The Blackwater incident of September 16th is a direct and successful result of the effectiveness of IEDs to influence the posture and response of our security forces, including of our own military, to threats. The effort to “stop the bleeding” back in 2003 took a turn toward our expertise (technology) and while failing to address the root causes and purposes of the attacks in the first place. The result: failure. Now you can subscribe to YouTube channels to watch new IED footage (as MountainRunner has) while more money is spent on jammers and armor. The former causes a technology race toward the bottom with diminishing returns and the latter insulates both physically and morally the Coalition from the population.

From Abu Muqawama:

It’s hard to think of a more effective weapon than the IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Thought it can take the form of a roadside bomb or jury-rigged land mine, the U.S. military uses the acronym IED to describe all the bombs, little and large, manufactured by amateurs for use against the U.S. military and its partners in Iraq.

The IED is effective for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s a cheap, easy way to inflict casualties on a fighting force whose home front and officer corps is casualty-averse. Second, it’s a great way — when placed in a populated area — to draw a disproportionate response from the targeted patrol. (Example: remember when that Marine special operations unit was hit with an IED in Afghanistan in the spring and they proceeded to shoot their machine guns into a crowd of civilians, killing over a dozen?)

And third, it’s a low-tech weapon that frustrates a military that wants technical, high-tech solutions.
“Americans want technical solutions. They want the silver bullet,” said Rear Adm. Arch Macy, commander of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Washington, which now oversees several counter-IED technologies. “The solution to IEDs is the whole range of national power –political-military affairs, strategy, operations, intelligence.”

AM links to one of two articles, both also smart, in the Washington Post by Rick Atkinson on IEDs. The first, looks at the Left of Boom v Right Boom requirement v actual:

As early as 2003, Army officers spoke of shifting the counter-IED effort “left of boom” by disrupting insurgent cells before bombs are built and planted. Yet U.S. efforts have focused overwhelmingly on “right of boom“– by mitigating the effects of a bomb blast with heavier armor, sturdier vehicles and better trauma care — or on the boom itself, by spending, for example, more than $3 billion on 14 types of electronic jammers that sometimes also jammed the radios of friendly forces.

As well as a brief narrative of the impact of IEDs:

Military explosives technicians learning their craft at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida are taught that the bomb triggering the Haymarket Riot in Chicago in 1886 was the first modern IED. T.E. Lawrence — of Arabia — wrote in “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” that roadside bombs, which mostly targeted Turkish trains in World War I, made traveling around “an uncertain terror for the enemy.”

The bomb that destroyed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the truck bomb Timothy McVeigh used to kill 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995, the devices detonated on trains in Madrid in 2004 and in the London transportation system in 2005 — all were IEDs.

British troops encountered 7,000 IEDs during 30-plus years of conflict in Northern Ireland, according to a U.S. Army ordnance officer. But what the British faced in more than three decades is equivalent to less than three months in today’s Iraq. Indeed, “the sheer growth of the thing,” as a senior Army general put it, is what most confounds Pentagon strategists.

“The IED is the enemy’s artillery system. It’s simply a way of putting chemical and kinetic energy on top of our soldiers and Marines, or underneath them,” said Montgomery C. Meigs, a retired four-star Army general who since December 2005 has served as director of the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization, the Pentagon’s multibillion-dollar effort to defeat the weapon. “What’s different is the trajectory. Three 152mm rounds underneath a tank, which will blow a hole in it, are artillery rounds. But they didn’t come through three-dimensional space in a parabolic trajectory. They came through a social trajectory and a social network in the community.”

While the reference to IEDs as enemy artillery misses the point, General Montgomery Meigs redeems himself with the last sentence, which is critically on target, pun intended. This isn’t about “scalps”, as Rick Atkinson errorneously states, In fact, it has little to do with killing Americans and Coalition forces and more to do with influence both on the Coalition and building support. IEDs can be looked at as political campaigns. There is the intimidation of the opposition and efforts to build support among existing and hoped for constituents for campaign contributions which take the shape of social, moral, financial, and logistical support.

On the flip side, there’s the reality that private military companies are in the same game of influence, except we do not acknowledge it or accept it, until now. That is the topic for another post and the purpose for the screening and discussion I put together for the movie Shadow Company last year (see the previous post, including who was on the discussion panel here). The strategic influence of both IEDs and private military companies is something the “soft power” people have seemingly only recently understood (USC’s Center for Public Diplomacy rejected even advertising the event, let alone giving a few hundred dollars to support it).

Finally the media and the citizenry and more importantly Congress are looking at the issue of contracting. Congress has abrogated is responsibility in providing oversight of the military and oversight over foreign policy by ignoring the issues. The influence of private military companies over host nation perceptions is shaped by IEDs, just as our posture and perceptions of the host nation is shaped by IEDs. It’s a viscous cycle that we can only lose if we do not get a handle on it. MountainRunner friend Frank Hoffman termed it right when he called the situation in Iraq Complex Irregular Warfare. The impact of our actions and our agents’ actions must be understood in this context. Perhaps the best example of a simple device creating a butterfly effect is the IED. Realize that and we’ll be better off and probably rely less on technological Right of Boom solutions. We must move far Left of the Boom and Blackwater vulnerabilities will be reduced…