Retired Army Gen. Montgomery Meigs, head of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, briefed media on progress in countering IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"IEDs are hybrid, idiosyncratic things that go off in surprising ways," Meigs said. "But all they are, are the enemy's fire system. The question is, 'How do we deal with this fire system?' And we spend a lot of time on that."
In previous wars, the enemy delivered artillery shells through guns. In Iraq, the enemy delivers the ordnance "through the labyrinth of structures in that society," Meigs said.
But the coalition is making progress against the improvised weapons. "We have gotten better at it, (and we) know more what our enemies are doing," Meigs said.
He added that his organization also has done a better job of finding appropriate technologies to counter these weapons.
Car bombs and IEDs are responsible for about 65 percent of the coalition casualties in Iraq, he said. More than 2,500 Americans have died as a result of hostile fire in Iraq, according to DoD officials.
But advances in defending against these weapons are working. The ratio of wounded to killed in Iraq is 9 to 1, Meigs said. In Vietnam, that ratio was 2 to 1, and in Korea it was 2.5 to 1.
Progress is also shown in the number of IEDs found and disarmed and the number of IEDs that go off but have no effect. The number of Americans being killed and wounded by the weapons has remained about the same, even though the enemy is planting far more of them, Meigs said. "The enemy is putting out four to five times the number of IEDs to cause one casualty that they did three and a half years ago," he said.
The number of attacks is going up because the opportunity is there. "It's very easy for a young, unemployed, angry male to collect $300 for setting out an IED and (video)taping it," Meigs said. "There's a lot of money on the street, so market factors also play a part."
Terrorists have built Internet sites that give step-by-step instructions in how to build and plant IEDs. Saddam Hussein bought millions of tons of ammunition and stashed it all over the country. All this makes it easy for enemies to "weaponize leftover ammunition," Meigs said.
The general said the best strategy is to attack the IED network. His organization helps fund that effort. Thirteen percent of the organization's $3.5 billion fiscal 2006 budget was dedicated to offensive operations. That number jumped to 31 percent of the budget in fiscal 2007, he said.
Meigs would not get specific about offensive actions his organization is funding. "It's the most sensitive part of what we do, and saying that would give (the enemy) an idea into our thinking, and they could counter it," he said.
Improving defensive capacity is also important. The Joint IED Defeat Organization is working on improvements to armor, hardening targets, and so on. The budget for defensive operations went from 78 percent in 2006 to 62 percent of the Joint IED Defeat Organization's budget in 2007.
Intelligence is at the heart of defeating the IED threat, and the Iraqi people are coming forward and giving intelligence on bomb makers in their neighborhoods. "My gut says more people are tired of the craziness and want to stop it," Meigs said.
The trend line in tips is very important, and it has constantly moved up. In September 2006, there were 4,250 tips. In October, that number rose to 7,467. In January 2007, 10,070 tips came in. "If that was a stock, you'd want to be in it," Meigs said.
The general said his organization is working to get ahead of the enemy's tactics. He said his analysts are able to look at intelligence on the bombs and see what is new and different and quickly get that information back to the war zone. His organization can recommend changes to tactics, techniques and procedures, but the ultimate decision on those has to come from the services training centers. "But we are wired into that," he said.
The organization will continue to work on defeating roadside bombs and will continue to refine intelligence collection and information distribution, Meigs said.
"If you want to stop artillery, you don't try to stop the artillery coming out of the sky, you go after the fires system," he said. "In conventional warfare during the Cold War, one of the advantages you wanted to take away from the enemy was the overbearing artillery advantage they had.
"The same is alive and well in this kind of warfare," he continued. "You have to go after the networks that make (and fund) this stuff."