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Insurgents using more powerful roadside bombs, military panel says

WASHINGTON—Insurgents in Iraq are adjusting their tactics and using bigger and more powerful explosives to target the vulnerable undersides of armored Humvees and other military vehicles, according to a Pentagon group assigned to find ways to counter roadside bombs.

Since July 24, at least 17 U.S. soldiers and Marines have been killed by such attacks, according to Defense Department press releases and on-the-scene media reports.

"The terrorists are now using larger, more powerful IEDs, and they are attacking the undercarriages of our vehicles now, where the armor is not as thick as on the sides," said Richard Bridges, a spokesman for the Joint IED Defeat Task Force, the Pentagon group charged with analyzing the attacks and creating ways to counter the bombs. "They are also, in some instances, using home-engineered shaped charges that are more effective at penetrating armor."

IED is an acronym for "improvised explosive device," which the military uses to describe various bomb attacks, but which is used most frequently to describe the roadside explosions. A "shaped charge" makes a blast more powerful by directing the force of the explosion toward the target.

In July, IEDs claimed 39 lives among multinational troops in Iraq, the highest monthly total since the war began in March 2003. Of those, 36 were Americans, tying June's U.S. total and continuing a trend of IEDs being the No. 1 cause of U.S. casualties, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that compiles statistics on U.S. and allied casualties based on Defense Department press releases and media reports.

In May, 33 Americans were killed by IEDs. The worst previous month was January, when IEDs killed 29 U.S. soldiers, according to the Web site.

The most recent spike in fatal attacks began July 24 when four soldiers with the Georgia National Guard's 48th Brigade Combat Team were killed after a bomb exploded under their armored Humvee while they were on patrol south of Baghdad.

The attack involved an estimated 600 pounds of explosives that had been buried in the road, the Macon Telegraph reported. The deaths were the brigade's first combat fatalities since World War II.

Also on July 24, four soldiers with the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment, based in Fort Carson, Colo., were killed in Baghdad when a bomb exploded near their Bradley Fighting Vehicle. No details were available on the amount of explosives used in that attack.

Two soldiers with the 89th Military Police Brigade, based in Fort Hood, Texas, were killed July 27 after their Humvee was hit by a bomb during a patrol in Ashraf, Iraq.

Four more soldiers with the 48th Brigade Combat Team were killed July 30 when their armored Humvee was hit by about 500 pounds of explosives. That bomb had also been buried, according to the Macon Telegraph. The Telegraph quoted Brig. Gen. Stewart Rodeheaver, the brigade's commander, as saying his soldiers had discovered about a dozen bombs in the area the previous week.

At least 448 U.S. service members have been killed by IEDs in Iraq during the past two years. They constitute nearly one-third of the 1,402 U.S. troops killed by hostile fire during the war, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. Another 404 troops have died in accidents or of illnesses.

Despite the recent spike, Bridges said U.S. forces "still are rendering safe" about 40 percent of the bombs they encounter before they explode. He also said intelligence-gathering efforts on bomb-making cells have improved and that better cooperation from the Iraqi public has helped.

"There have been some successes in that regard, and we've taken out dozens of these bad guys," he said.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.