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Tactics of Iraqi Insurgents Evolving


From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, following the death of journalist Steven Vincent in Iraq, we look back at his life and at the risks faced by free-lance journalists covering the most dangerous story in the world.

And that danger hit home yesterday. Fourteen US Marines were killed by a powerful roadside bomb in Hadithah. Now there are renewed questions about the strength of the insurgency and its evolving tactics. US military officers say the weapons used by insurgents have grown in size and sophistication in recent months. I'm joined now by Andrew Krepinevich. He's executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. That's a defense policy think tank in Washington.

And, Mr. Krepinevich, have the insurgents been more sophisticated in terms of their techniques, or are the bombs just getting a lot bigger?

Mr. ANDREW KREPINEVICH (Executive Director, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment): I'd say both, Madeleine. What you have is a situation here where the insurgents have been at this for two years now. They've become more experienced and more sophisticated, and they have an advantage over us because we keep rotating forces in and out of Iraq in order to give our troops a break. So they're moving up that learning curve more quickly than our forces are over time. And so what we've seen is they're getting better in terms of how they position these roadside bombs. For example, they've learned in some cases to put them at corners where you have to slow down and turn. Not only does the convoy slow down to give them a better target, but also it's hard to spot these roadside bombs when they are positioned on a street corner as opposed to along the side of the road. Secondly, they're getting better at remote detonations, and so they can be a hundred yards away and detonate these weapons. So we really are up against a difficult situation in terms of these roadside bombs.

BRAND: Well, are the insurgents figuring out these techniques on their own, or are they getting outside help?

Mr. KREPINEVICH: I think, for the most part, nothing beats on-the-ground experience, on-the-job training. I mean, as time has gone on, we've learned, for example, to look for those weapons, those bombs that might be planted as you turn the corner. We've increased the armor that we put on our vehicles to help protect these soldiers better. We've come up with ways to try and electronically determine when you may have these electronic hookups with these weapons or to jam possibly the electronic signal that detonates the weapon. So it's very much a back-and-forth cat-and-mouse, one side trying to get an advantage over the other. The problem, though, is that they are learning, obviously, from their experiences. They're learning from their mistakes. And they do have the benefit in that they never leave the combat zone.

BRAND: You say they're learning very quickly to adapt. What about the US?

Mr. KREPINEVICH: Well, again, we're adapting, as well. I think ultimately, Madeleine, the key here, quite frankly, is winning over the people. What we need to do, I think, is to focus on those areas where the population is supportive of the new government but where they fear being coerced by the insurgents. You know, people know if a bomb is being planted on their street. What you have to do is to get them to warn you. And the problem is that we haven't given people enough of an incentive yet to support the government, and we haven't provided the enduring level of security that they'll need so that when they do report these things, the insurgents won't come knocking on their door that night and exact retribution.

BRAND: Andrew Krepinevich is executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment in Washington.

Thanks for joining us.

Mr. KREPINEVICH: Thank you, Madeleine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).