View Full Version : Intelligence teams track evolution of enemy bombs

05-31-2005, 05:02 PM
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Intelligence teams track evolution of enemy bombs

By Steven Komarow, USA TODAY Tue May 31, 6:41 AM ET

The engine sitting upright on the tarmac, about 10 yards from the crater, gets the once-over from Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Tyson. It's the largest piece of an Opel sedan that a couple of hours earlier exploded into shreds that tore through nearby cars and people in this enclave southeast of Baghdad.

Over in the roadside dust, some bits of the bomber, including a foot, turn up. "We went to one and we got a hand, so we could fingerprint it," Tyson says. In this case, however, the number on the engine might be the most useful clue.

Tyson, 32, is part of a new team, one of six in
Iraq, that Army intelligence has sent to look at roadside and car bombs in a different way. "We try to look at it the way the terrorist looks at it," he says.

The Weapons Intelligence Team is trying to help the military keep up with the constantly changing insurgent tactics and techniques.

Roadside bombs and car bombs are among the deadliest threats U.S. troops face in Iraq. Suicide car bombers, carrying similarly constructed devices, crash into convoys or detonate at checkpoints.

The roadside bombs are usually fashioned from artillery shells, hidden on the side of roads and detonated remotely. Roadside bombs in particular remain responsible for a large portion of combat fatalities in Iraq.

U.S. forces have yet to fully counter roadside bombs. Humvees and other military vehicles have been armored, and the military is distributing a jamming device designed to prevent roadside bombs from being triggered remotely by cell phones, walkie-talkies or other wireless devices.

But insurgents have remained adaptive, making more powerful devices and changing the way they are detonated to avoid the "jammers." Insurgents try to stay one step ahead of U.S. forces.

"They're getting better," says Spc. Pavel Palanker, 24, who along with Tyson, 32, and Sgt. Charles Runolfson, 29, make up the team for eastern Baghdad.

The goal of the three-person Weapons Intelligence Teams is to speed up and improve analysis of the bombers.

The teams also collect evidence in effort to better understand the workings of the bombs and the identities and possible affiliations of the insurgents who use them.

Their impressions of the insurgents today are far different than what they expected.

Before arriving in Iraq in December, Tyson says he figured the insurgents were "uneducated thugs." Now, he views them as cunning adversaries.

"I would say the skill level is very good," he says, including their ability to quickly adjust to U.S. countermeasures.

The car and roadside bombs usually are made from leftover artillery or mortar shells. Iraq has a seemingly endless supply and variety of leftover ordnance. The skill levels and techniques of the bombmakers vary.

More sophisticated examples include "shaped" charges, bombs designed to focus the blast in one direction and thus concentrate power. A shaped charge on the roadside aimed at passing vehicles is more likely to penetrate the armor on Humvees or even heavier protection.

Sometimes, working with the military's technical bomb experts, the Weapons Intelligence Team can determine that a single maker is behind a series of attacks, even if they haven't identified the person.

The intelligence gathering is not a one-way affair. The insurgents watch carefully and sometimes videotape when U.S. servicemembers arrive to gather evidence or to defuse an unexploded bomb, the team members say. They think insurgents are trying to pick up clues about the team's investigative techniques by watching them.

"That's why we try to change how we operate. They're gunning for us," says Sgt. Duane Poslusny, 24, an explosives disposal expert who works closely with the intelligence team.

On this day, the 6:45 a.m. Opel bomb is just one of at least three along a short stretch of highway. One just to the north hit a bus at about the same time, setting it on fire. The third detonated near a U.S. convoy, but this time damage was light - just blown tires.

The team also uncovered what looks like a fourth bomb, but it turns out to be just a heavy steel tube with a fake trip-wire device. It apparently was a lure planted within range of one of the other bombs, designed to attract troops to come for a closer look.

Runolfson says the team's observations get disseminated in the form of advice to other soldiers.

Capt. Matt Wheeler, intelligence officer for the 1/9 Field Artillery, the intelligence team's host unit at an old Iraqi secret police and prison camp, says the threat has made all the soldiers aware. Instead of a traditional battle, the mission is often "more of a CSI," he says, citing a popular television program about crime scene investigators.

Criminal evidence gets passed along to others, including a team of U.S. and allied law enforcement agents in Iraq who do laboratory analysis and help the Iraqi government prosecute insurgents.

"We don't get specific (results) of what we do," Runolfson says. "They'll just tell us we got a 'hit,' " referring to an insurgent captured or killed based on the information the team provided.