Afghan bomb strikes to escalate this year - expert

A foreign soldier investigates the scene of a suicide car bomb blast in Ghazni city June 23, 2009. REUTERS/Nasratullah Wahidi

KABUL (Reuters) - Militants in Afghanistan have been planting more homemade bombs this year, increasing their reliance on the tactic as thousands more U.S. troops arrive in the country, a U.S. bomb expert said on Wednesday.

“The numbers of attacks -- it’s significantly more than it was last year which was significantly more than the year before,” said Commander Scott Russell, deputy head of the NATO unit in charge of countering homemade bombs.

“We are on an upward trend. We can anticipate ... 25 to 30 percent more IEDs this year than we had last year and we are on that pace to stay at that level,” he said, referring to the bombs known as Improvised Explosive Devices.

Nearly 1,200 Western troops have died in Afghanistan since Washington started its military operation in Afghanistan with the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. IED attacks are the biggest killer.

“The IED is the enemy’s weapon of choice because it is cost-effective with respect to money and it also presents the least danger to himself,” Russell said.

Washington is more than doubling its force in Afghanistan from 32,000 at the beginning of this year to a projected 68,000 by year’s end. Most have already arrived in the south and east to reinforce NATO-led efforts to turn the tide on a fierce and growing Taliban-led insurgency.

Russell, who advises the recently-arrived commander of international forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, on counter IED strategy, said there would be no major shifts in anti-bomb policy to coincide with McChrystal’s tour of duty.

“I have worked with General McChrystal’s staff and we have not anticipated any changes in that piece of the conflict in Afghanistan,” Russell said.