(image credit Paula Bronstein/Getty)
Washington, DC (written by Tom Vanden Brook/USA Today) -- U.S.-led troop deaths from makeshift bombs in Afghanistan are dropping sharply even though the number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by insurgents are near record levels, Pentagon data show.
Now, less than half of troop deaths come from the bombs, although there has been a 5% spike in homemade bomb incidents since March, according to the Pentagon. The high number of incidents highlights continuing problems choking off the supply of bomb parts from Pakistan and a resilient Taliban, according to a senator and military analyst.
Part of the decline in deaths can be traced to the changing nature of combat there. Attacks have shifted from southern to eastern Afghanistan where allied forces are focusing on insurgents in rugged, mountainous terrain. Troops in the east tend to travel in armored vehicles, which have experienced a 17% increase in attacks over the last three months, according to the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization. In the south, troops tend to touch off bombs while on foot.
From June 1, 2011 to May 31 of this year, there were 16,321 incidents, in which bombs exploded or were found before they detonated. The record for a calendar year was in 2011 when insurgents planted 16,554 bombs. About 86% of the attacks come from homemade explosives traced to Pakistan, according to JIEDDO. That's up from about 80% last year.
"We cannot expect substantial progress in the fight against IEDs in Afghanistan until Pakistan takes responsibility for tracking and interdiction," Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., told USA TODAY. "This topic should be at the top of our agenda in every interaction with Pakistani officials."
Casey authored a portion of this year's foreign operations bill making U.S. aid to Pakistan contingent on the secretary of State confirming that Pakistan is dismantling bomb-making networks and choking off the flow of fertilizer.
Seizures of stocks of homemade explosives before they can be formed into bombs are up 53% this year to 37 tons, according to JIEDDO. It takes about 50 pounds of fertilizer to make a bomb.
Nonetheless, Seth Jones, a RAND Corp. analyst who has advised the military in Afghanistan, said IED incidents do not accurately show who's winning the war.
"However, high levels of IED attacks do indicate that the Taliban and other insurgent groups retain a lethal capability to target United States forces," he said. "In short, they are surviving. With the United States downsizing its force presence in Afghanistan, that's all the Taliban needs to do right now: survive."