June 15, 2007

Improvised Explosive Defeat?

Filed under: Terrorism — rdrutherford @ 6:05 pm

Improvised Explosive Defeat?
By David Ignatius
Sunday, June 10, 2007; Page B07

The photographs gathered by The Post each month in a gallery called Faces of the Fallen are haunting. The soldiers are so young, enlisted men and women mostly, usually dressed in the uniforms they wore in Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s striking is that most of them were killed by roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

The United States is losing the war in Iraq because it cannot combat these makeshift weapons. An army with unimaginable firepower is being driven out by guerrillas armed with a crude arsenal of explosives and blasting caps, triggered by cellphones and garage-door openers.

This is Gulliver’s torment, circa 2007. We have thrown our money and technology at the problem, with limited effect. In 2004 the Pentagon created a special task force called the Joint IED Defeat Organization (or JIEDDO, in Pentagon-ese). It has spent $6.3 billion and assembled a staff of nearly 400, but every day more of our brave young people die, and we seem unable to stop it.

“Once the bomb is made, it’s too late,” says Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has studied the IED problem. She says the best hope is to disrupt the money and supplies that allow the bombs to be constructed.

Low-tech seems to trump high-tech. The military is operating nearly 5,000 robots in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared with 150 in 2004. The latest model, dubbed “Fido,” has a digital nose that can sniff explosives. Yet the bombs are so cheap and easy to make, and the robot sniffers are so expensive and finicky to operate, that the cost-benefit ratio seems to work in favor of the insurgents.

We have dozens of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over Iraq at any given time, monitoring highways and ammunition dumps and suspected terrorists. And we have many hundreds of additional sensors, adding more data. But the flow of this intelligence information is so vast that it overwhelms our ability to analyze it. Retired Gen. Montgomery Meigs, who heads JIEDDO, disagrees. “It’s not true that there is so much data we’re swamped and can’t deal with it,” he said.

Someday, perhaps, the Pentagon will track and target bombers by identifying biological tags — smells or DNA traces that are unique signatures. Someday, we will be able to examine the microbes on an insurgent’s skin or in his gut to find out if he was trained in Iran or the Bekaa Valley or Afghanistan. But in a world with an ever-expanding supply of suicide bombers, will such technology make any difference?

The insurgents who kill our young soldiers are ruthless, but we have sometimes been cautious in our response. Take the question of targeting bomb makers: There may be an unlimited supply of explosives in Iraq, but there is not an unlimited supply of people who know how to wire the detonators. In 2004, CIA operatives in Iraq believed that they had identified the signatures of 11 bomb makers. They proposed a diabolical — but potentially effective — sabotage program that would have flooded Iraq with booby-trapped detonators designed to explode in the bomb makers’ hands. But the CIA general counsel’s office said no. The lawyers claimed that the agency lacked authority for such an operation, one source recalled.

There are technologies that would allow us to detonate every roadside bomb in Iraq by heating the wires in the detonators to the point that they triggered an explosion. But these systems could severely harm civilians nearby, so we’re not using them, either. “In our system, we often are not given credit for the fact that we are very concerned about collateral damage,” Meigs said.

We wrote the book for the insurgents, in a sense. By arming and training the mujaheddin in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the 1980s, we created the modern dynamics of asymmetric warfare. That extends even to the fearsome armor-piercing “explosively formed penetrators,” or EFPs, that we have accused the Iranians of supplying to Iraqi insurgents. The CIA referred to these tank busters as “platter charges” in the days when we were covertly helping provide them to the Afghan rebels.

The simple, low-tech answer to the IED threat is to reduce the number of targets — by getting our troops off the streets during vulnerable daylight hours, to the extent possible. It’s an interesting fact that very few IED attacks have been suffered by our elite Special Forces units, which attack al-Qaeda cells and Shiite death squads mostly at night, with devastating force. They blow in from nowhere and are gone minutes later, before the enemy can start shooting. That’s the kind of asymmetry that evens the balance in Iraq and Afghanistan.


June 11, 2007

Namibia: There’s Power in the Bush

Filed under: Africa, LDCs — rdrutherford @ 8:43 pm

Wezi Tjaronda

Efforts to find ways of combating invader bush have culminated in a bush-to-power project that may start operating in June if all goes according to plan.

The project – Combating Bush Encroachment for Namibia’s Development (C-Bend) – is a collaborative effort of three organizations, namely, the Desert Research Foundation Namibia, Namibia Agricultural Union and Namibia National Farmers’ Union. Plans are for it to be implemented between 2007 and 2008, after the EU-funded Rural Poverty Reduction Programme provisionally approved financing the project.

The project will be located in one of the areas with a high density of invader bush around the north-central areas of Tsumeb, Otavi and Grootfontein.

Other conditions of the project site will be the proximity of the areas to electricity, where the generated power can be fed into the national grid and the willingness of farmers around those areas to have their farms used.

C-Bend’s fact sheet says that Namibia’s bush-to-electricity energy potential in bush-infested areas lies in using available electricity-generating technologies and applying ecological management principles that can generate between 0.5 and 2.5 MWh per hectares per year.

At a sustainable yield of 2 MWh per hectare, some 1.5 million hectares of bush harvested each year would ensure that Namibia’s entire annual electricity consumption of 3 000 GWh is generated.

Studies conducted in 2000 assessed both large-scale (10-30 MW) and small-scale (0.2 – 0.5 MW) biomass technologies, and although both were found to be technically feasible, the economic feasibility was undermined because of cheaper electricity imports from South Africa.

But the current situation of lack of generation capacity and energy security as well as technology developments present new opportunities for the introduction of small-scale decentralised wood gasification technologies.

A 0.5MW wood gasification plant costs over N$4 million and produces 3 500 MWh per hectare and taking into account sales of N$0.3 per KWh, annual revenues from the sale of electricity would yield some N$1 million. This would also result in an increased carrying capacity of debushed land and also yield additional income.

At a meeting on Bio-Energy recently, DRFN’s Detlof von Oertzen said the project would also address productivity issues, job creation and improved livelihoods.

“Poverty statistics are shocking. We face an uncertain energy future while we have a very high unemployment rate,” he said, adding that the project gave the country a unique opportunity to address local problems with local solutions.

“This is a first tiny step to use local resources in finding solutions,” he added.

He said the project has the endorsement of the country’s power utility, Nampower, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, the Namibia Women’s Association and the regional councils.

Studies indicate that 26 million hectares of agricultural land are infested with bush encroachment, therefore preventing the growth of useful grass species and compaction of soil in the bush encroached areas.

This has reduced the land’s carrying capacity resulting in reduced cattle numbers over the years and leading to economic losses of N$700 million every year.

C-Bend aims at assessing the actual economics and developing the best management practices for rural bush-to-energy, which paves the way for the introduction of such technologies in rural communities and areas.

Apart from generating electricity, invader bush is a resource from which animal fed, charcoal products, chipboards and bush blocks can be produced.
Relevant Links
Southern Africa
Sustainable Development

Although there are other methods to limit bush encroachment such as herbicides, use of browsers, fire, stumping or felling and bulldozing among others, many of these methods have been found to be so costly that farmers say it is cheaper to buy another farm than to debush.

The objective of the project is to get a bush-to-electricity enterprise up and running and through the enterprise hopefully change the perception that invader bush is a nuisance.

The bush will be harvested sustainably as a resource in a way that it can be re-harvested in future.
Namibia: There’s Power in the Bush

June 1, 2007

Warmer world gets wetter

Filed under: Global Warming — rdrutherford @ 5:45 pm

Warmer world gets wetter
Global warming will increase worldwide precipitation by three times the amount predicted by current climate models, according to a study based on two decades’ worth of satellite observations.

The discrepancy between the models and the data might mean that the models are wrong. Or it might be that two decades is not long enough to test their predictions. But researchers believe that the work is a step towards understanding the thorny issue of how global temperatures affect rainfall.

Warmer air holds more water. Satellite observations and climate models agree that each rise of 1 °C in global temperatures increases the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere by about 6.5%.

But climate models project that global warming will also bring weaker winds, leading to less water evaporating from the ocean and counteracting the effect of warming. Models predict that worldwide precipitation — which must match the amount of evaporation — will increase by only 1-3% for each degree of future global warming.

Uncertain forecast

To see how rainfall had changed with the 0.4 °C warming of the past 20 years, Frank Wentz and his colleagues at Remote Sensing Systems in Santa Rosa, California, analysed data collected by US weather satellites from 1987 to 2006. The satellites measure atmospheric water vapour, surface winds and precipitation.

They report in Science that the amount of water in the atmosphere, evaporation and precipitation all increased at the same rate, by about 1.3% per decade1 — or about 6.5% for every degree of warming. Surface winds increased, not decreased, with warming.

It is currently impossible to predict where additional precipitation will fall, says Wentz. Wet areas may get wetter, but drought-plagued regions might also get some relief.

The study is “a good first step” in the debate over future precipitation, says Gerald North of Texas A&M University, College Station, who studies rainfall patterns. But, he adds, the single 20-year data set is not enough to get a definite answer.

He also notes that it is difficult to measure evaporation from space — and even from the ground. “The satellite-inferred trends are not a measurement but an estimate with unknown and subtle error characteristics,” he says.

Wentz agrees that two decades’ worth of data are not definitive — but “it is all we have”. The accuracy of climate models’ predictions regarding precipitation has not been tested before, he adds.

John Bates, a remote-sensing expert at the US National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, says studying the global water budget is “notoriously difficult”, but the latest climate models may be better able to account for precipitation.

He is looking forward “to seeing how those models compare with the ever improving satellite observations”.

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