October 10, 2011:
Many victories in Afghanistan go unreported. Good news isn't considered news, unless you are among those few people who benefitted. Hundreds of American troops avoided death or injury in the last year because of better tools and techniques for dealing with roadside bombs and mines.
In Afghanistan, during June, July and August a record number of IEDs (improvised explosive devices, usually roadside bombs) were used by the drug gangs, the Taliban and other Islamic terrorists against U.S. troops. These caused 1,297 casualties (4.9 percent of them fatal). It took 5,088 IEDs to cause those casualties, which means it took 76 IEDs to kill one U.S. soldier or marine, or 3.9 IEDs to cause one casualty. Last year it took three IEDs to cause one casualty, and about 30 IEDs to kill one foreign soldier. As happened in Iraq, the IED campaign is being defeated.
The high number of IEDs encountered is due to the fact for over a year, the foreign troops have been on the offensive, and more exposed to IED attacks in areas where there has not been time to clear out the IEDs. This is especially true with land mines, which are easier to plant and more difficult to avoid. The mines end up causing more civilian casualties as well, because the Taliban often don't remove the ones that did not go off, or mark the areas where they are.
In addition to better tools for detecting IEDs, foreign troops are better protected from those that do go off. While 80 percent of hummers or trucks hit with IEDs result in one or more passengers killed, that only happens in 15 percent of MRAPs (armored trucks designed to deflect explosions) hit with IEDs. Two years ago, about two-thirds of all casualties in Afghanistan were from roadside bombs. Thus these vehicles reduced overall casualties by about a third, and now IEDs create less than half as many casualties as they did in 2009.
IEDs are the only weapon the Taliban can use against foreign soldiers that will not cause the Taliban to take a lot of casualties (which causes them morale and recruiting problems). The only positive aspect of the IED campaign is that the Taliban are seen as helping the economy because they have to pay most of the people involved in building, planting and setting off these bombs. The same thing happened in Iraq, but the Taliban never acquired the skills of the Iraqis in building and placing these bombs. More IEDs go off, while being emplaced in Afghanistan than in Iraq. In some cases, U.S. gunships have night-vision video of the Taliban IED planting crew going up in smoke as they make a mistake while arming the weapon. Many IEDs showed clear signs of shoddy construction (the bomb disposal robots often can get clear pictures of the IED, before explosives are placed on it and set off by remote control to destroy the device).
U.S. intelligence has intercepted electronic and written messages to IED building and placing teams, in which senior Taliban criticize their subordinates for sloppy work. But the Taliban have the same problem the army and police have. Most Afghans are illiterate, and the Taliban recruits mainly from rural tribesmen, the group with the lowest literacy rates. Thus the low levels of technical proficiency.