The improvised roadside bombs have proved a lethal tool for insurgents this spring.
The number of American troops killed by homemade bombs in Iraq has nearly doubled this spring, since the "surge" of forces began, a stark reminder of the dangers there and a trend that intensifies pressure on the Pentagon agency charged with defeating the bombs.
As of Tuesday, the Defense Department confirms that 377 service members have been killed under hostile circumstances since Jan. 1 – with 265 of those deaths, or 70 percent, attributed to improvised explosive devices. That rate represents the average normally attributed to deaths from the bombs, called IEDs.
But the trend line is not good. In each of the past two months, the share of deaths attributed to IEDs has jumped to 83 percent, according to Pentagon data.
The simple explosives are hidden in cars, planted in the ground, or strapped to suicide bombers. But over the past month insurgents have begun placing them in trucks to achieve greater impact, Defense officials say.
The actual number of service members – including soldiers, marines, and other troops – killed by IEDs rose from 39 in January to 78 in April. As of last Saturday, 48 more American service members have been killed by IEDs since the beginning of May, including seven who died Saturday (six of them in one attack in Baghdad).
The result is more scrutiny for the Pentagon organization that some believe should lead the effort to minimize the use of the improvised explosive device, eliminate the No. 1 killer of US troops, and thereby fundamentally change the nature of the war for US forces in Iraq.
That is an enormous order for the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), created as a task force to defeat IEDs in 2004 and formalized as an agency last year. It has spent more than $6 billion so far but has been criticized by some in Congress for not spending enough – or showing that it is getting results.
The soft-spoken head of the agency, Montgomery Meigs, a retired Army four-star general, acknowledges that his organization could do better at getting the word out. But it is spending its money, and it's having an effect, he says.
"We are making steady progress and playing our role in helping units deal with this problem," he says.