The Iraqi army has a severe shortage of support troops, particularly
combat support. This includes combat engineers trained and equipped for
clearing roadside bombs (IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.) The Iraqis do
have hundreds of EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) technicians. This is because
the 1980s war with Iran left a lot of unexploded bombs, shells and mines along
the Iranian border, providing lots of work for EOD people. But EOD work mainly
requires skilled operators, using simple tools. To deal with IEDs effectively,
you need some specialized, and expensive, equipment. The U.S. Army and Marines
have special armored vehicles (mainly Cougars), built to survive a nearby IED
explosion, and equipped with vidcams and other sensors to find IEDs before they
go off. The American EOD specialists also have robots to do the dangerous,
close in work.
the Iraqi troops have taken over security for many of the rebellious Sunni Arab
areas in the last year, American combat engineers have been assigned to go in
and clear out the worst infestations of IEDs in areas controlled by Iraqi
troops. The terrorists, taking advantage of the Iraqi army shortage of combat
engineers, have planted thousands of IEDs. In some areas, there are 3-4 per
kilometer of road. The Iraqi army simply hasn't got enough EOD teams to handle
American engineers will come in, clear out the worst infestations, then teach
the Iraqi troops techniques for keeping the roads free of the bombs. This is
usually something as simple as some watch towers and night vision devices. If
the Iraqis man those towers 24/7, the terrorists won't be able to plant bombs.
Americans like having some Iraqi troops going out with the engineers. The
Americans know that, sometimes, the terrorists will pay civilians to sort of
wander past the U.S. engineers, trying to spot techniques being used to clear
the bombs. This makes it possible for the terrorists to build bombs that are
more difficult to clear. But with some Iraqi troops along, these spies can not
only be more readily shooed away, but sometimes identified and arrested.
some Iraqi engineers will be equipped with the Cougars and all the high-tech
(and expensive) gear that goes inside them. With this gear, roads with lots of
IEDs can be cleared at a rate of 500-1,000 meters a day, with little risk of
friendly casualties. Using just EOD teams, it would take as long, or longer,
and you would lose people.