Man Versus Mine

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

In Man Versus Mine, Robert Bryce notes how little insurgency has changed over the years:

Nearly a century ago, while serving as a British liaison officer to the Arab tribes during World War I, T. E. Lawrence developed many of the techniques of modern insurgent warfare. Lawrence’s fluency in Arabic and profound understanding of Arab culture helped him invigorate the Arab Revolt of 1916–1918. His savvy military tactics helped ensure its success against the Turks.

In his memoir, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922), Lawrence revealed his most effective tactic: ‘Mines were the best weapon yet discovered to make the regular working of their trains costly and uncertain for our Turkish enemy.’ If not for Lawrence’s pioneering use of precisely placed explosives, the Arab Revolt might well have failed.

In Iraq the insurgents are using similar weapons against U.S. forces. Today they are called IEDs — for ‘improvised explosive devices’ — rather than mines, and the insurgents are targeting automobiles rather than trains. But the effect is just as devastating.

The number of mines being used in Iraq, and the share of casualties for which they are responsible, dwarf anything ever before seen by the American military. During World War II three percent of U.S. combat deaths were caused by mines or booby traps. In Korea that figure was four percent. By 1967, during the Vietnam War, it was nine percent, and the Pentagon began experimenting with armored boots. From June to November of 2005, IEDs were responsible for 65 percent of American combat deaths and roughly half of all nonfatal injuries.

Leave a Reply