- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Iraqi insurgents and foreign terrorists have become “more effective” at locating and attacking pivotal supply routes for U.S. combat forces in Iraq, the deputy commander of troops in the Persian Gulf said yesterday.

The assessment from Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, second in command at U.S. Central Command, was a stark reminder that the capture of Fallujah has not stopped a well-organized and resourceful insurgency from continuing to kill coalition members and disrupt crucial supplies of food, fuel and bullets.

The enemy is getting better at manufacturing and placing its weapon of choice, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), he said.

“They have gotten more effective in using IEDs,” Gen. Smith told reporters at the Pentagon. “The enemy is very smart and thinking. It is a thinking enemy. So he changes his tactics and he becomes more effective.”

The IED is a variety of roadside bombs hidden amid debris and detonated by remote control when Americans come near. The terrorists also put IEDs in vehicles driven by suicide bombers recruited by a terror organization led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab Zarqawi.

In a briefing before Gen. Smith spoke, an Army officer said the insurgents have found ways to pack more explosives into each bomb, increasing lethality. It was the appearance of IEDs in the late summer of 2003 that signaled to commanders that a deadly insurgency was under way and that lightly fortified vehicles were particularly susceptible.

As the U.S. death toll mounted, the Army launched an unprecedented effort to put armor on all Humvee multipurpose vehicles and supply trucks.

The Defense Department also set up an IED task force at the Pentagon to design countermeasures. To date, the tactics have resulted in foiling about 40 percent of planted bombs, according to U.S. officials.

“We have been hoping that our technology would be more effective than it has been,” Gen. Smith acknowledged.

Countermeasures have included driving fast past areas suspected of being booby-trapped and using electronic signals to blow up the remotely controlled bombs at a safe distance.

Iraqis use a variety of electronics, such as parts of cell phones and radios, to send a signal for detonation as convoys pass.

“They may use doorbells today to blow these things up,” Gen. Smith said. “They may use remote controls from toys tomorrow. And as we adapt, they adapt.”

Gen. Smith also said Central Command now believes that Zarqawi, who has organized cells of suicide bombers and personally beheaded captives, is moving around Baghdad rather than operating out of Fallujah.

“Baghdad would be the most likely area, but these guys are getting very, very good at concealing … making it difficult for us to track them,” Gen. Smith said. “He can operate pretty safely, we think. In some areas of Baghdad there are those that would hide him and those that would passively allow him to operate.”

In capturing Fallujah in November, the coalition deprived Zarqawi of an important base to organize cells and build IEDs.

“It is difficult for them,” Gen. Smith said. “But I would say he has not been emasculated. I mean, he is capable of conducting operations.”

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