- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

The car bombs killing troops and civilians in Iraq have grown more sophisticated as insurgents gain training and financing across the border in Syria, defense officials say.

The officials estimate that improvised explosive devices (IEDs), both roadside and car-borne, now account for 50 percent of all daily attacks, or “contacts,” in Iraq.

When the IED attacks began in full force in late 2003, most bombs were made of artillery and mortar shells. But lately, the coalition is discovering more sophisticated bombs made of a mix of explosives, some of which include penetrating warheads to kill people inside buildings.

At the Pentagon, an Army-led task force is working to come up with ways to defeat the systems, but so far the insurgents are finding new technologies and tactics to stay one step ahead.

“There’s not going to be a silver bullet,” said one defense official assigned to the problem. “It’s going to be a combination of technology, jammers and intelligence to find the bomb makers.”

One problem, this source says, is that some of the financing to buy bomb parts and bomb-making training is going on in Syria, effectively giving the terrorists a sanctuary.

“We know they are training in Syria because they have no threat of being picked up,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

The suicide car bombings are considered the work of foreign jihadists, most of whom enter Iraq through Syria. “We believe all of them are foreigners, not Iraqis,” a second defense official said.

The jihadists are recruited by al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Jordanian-born terror chief Abu Musab Zarqawi. They train in Syria and Iraq, then are assigned missions.

Zarqawi, the most-wanted man in Iraq with a $25 million reward on his head, has shifted car bomb attacks in recent months from targeting American troops to trying to kill Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians.

Officials said Zarqawi wants to inflict the maximum possible number of deaths and injuries. With American soldiers exercising better force protection, thanks to improved armor and training, the insurgents have shifted their attacks to more vulnerable Iraqi troops and civilians.

“Terrorists always look for the weakest point,” said Dick Bridges, spokesman for the Pentagon’s IED task force. “We are no longer the weakest point.”

The remains of some suicide bombers have been found tied to the steering wheels of their vehicles. This has led to public statements from Pentagon officials that bombers are being forced to carry out life-ending missions.

But there is another theory among military commanders: The insurgents are strapped to the steering wheel to aid them in keeping the car on target by preventing them from slumping over in the event they are wounded by gunfire. Some vehicle-borne IEDs are rigged to be remotely detonated so all the driver has to do is get near the target.

Roadside IEDs continue to bedevil commanders, although the task force says it has made progress in reducing casualties. Jammers developed in the United States and sent to Iraq have had some successes.

But the insurgents adjusted by changing the mechanisms for detonating bombs. Sometimes they change the frequency on the radio used to send a signal to the battery-powered ignition switch. In other cases, they use wire ignition, which is not vulnerable to jamming, or cordless phones, which provide a close-in radio wave that is more difficult to disrupt.

The Army-led task force is using a $1.4 billion fund to invest in technologies and on-the-spot training.

“We basically were given a lot of latitude to take some risks,” Mr. Bridges said. “If something looks promising, and we test it, and it turns out not to be, we can just drop it and turn to something else.”

Many statistics surrounding IEDs are classified. However, Mr. Bridges did say that while the number of IED attacks increased significantly from April 2004 to April 2005, the number of U.S. casualties — killed or wounded — dropped by 45 percent.

“The enemy is very adaptive, very inventive and very smart,” he said. “I can’t comprehend of an enemy that believes suicide is a means of combat. But they do. They watch us and learn from us.”

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