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High-tech trackers: extra eyes for US forces in Iraq

Blue Force Tracker lets troops quickly update the location of friendly and hostile forces.

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Staff Sgt. Patrick Ciferri brought his Humvee to a halt in a dead-end alley in the city's Ghazaliya neighborhood on a hot summer night in July. Peering at the map on his computer screen, he barked at the driver to back out. The Humvee reversed fast, sending up a cloud of dust.

"We came up a little more east of the checkpoint than I thought," said Sergeant Ciferri, of the US Army's Delta Company, 2-12 Cavalry.

"I wanted to make sure that we didn't pop up next to a known IED hole," he said, referring to improvised explosive devises, which have been responsible for most of the US military deaths in Iraq.

Moments before, Ciferri's eyes darted around the Blue Force Tracker (BFT) screen in his Humvee. He was plotting a course through the warren of streets in this once upscale neighborhood that, in July, swirled with insurgent activity.

Today, the area is noticeably quieter. "As of today, IED attacks are down to the lowest levels in years," says Col. Steven Boylan, spokesperson for Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq. "The found and cleared rates are at 50 percent. That means for every IED that explodes, one is found and cleared."

After scanning an area a square-mile wide, Ciferri, who hails from Fort Bliss, Texas, drilled down to a few main streets and side roads. The technology is no guarantee his unit won't run into hostile fire or hit a bomb. But the war would be much deadlier for US forces were it not for ongoing medical and technological advancements, Colonel Boylan says. At least 3,839 US military personnel had lost their lives as of Tuesday, according to the website

The US has essentially built a fully networked battle space that it constantly upgrades to accommodate simultaneous communications with troops on the ground from command stations within the fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad.

Blue Force Tracker allows the military to track, through a global positioning system (GPS), location and movement of US vehicles as well as other "friendly" forces. The system also highlights "sigacts" (significant activities) like IED strikes, mortar attacks, and troop movements.


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