A couple years ago, I was working a contract with the Tactical Tracking Operations School. In the course of talking to the chief instructor, he told me about a training scenario the company had worked up for a Marine unit using the tracking instructors as OpFor. Shortly after briefing the command, a Marine officer demanded to know where they were getting their information. The OpFor actions matched Taliban TTPs in Afghanistan at the time almost perfectly – TTPs that hadn’t been made public outside of the military network.

They had drawn on after-action reports from Vietnam and Rhodesia. The OpFor was using TTPs used by the Vietcong and ZANLA and ZIPRA guerrillas. None of the recent battle reports had any bearing on the scenario as drafted.

As I’ve continued my own study of guerrilla and proxy warfare, it’s become evident that many things that are catching us by surprise these days aren’t anything new. The term “IED” was newly coined in 2005; the tactic was anything but.

In February, 1967, Recon Team “Duckbill” was inserted into an LZ near Nui Cu. Shortly after the Marines were on the ground, they began taking heavy fire from the VC, who had the LZ surrounded. As they ran to cover, Cpl Mike Holmes was severely wounded by the detonation of a 155mm artillery shell. Shortly thereafter, as the second half of the patrol was coming in to land to support the beleaguered Marines, Sgt Joe Barnes was killed outright by the explosion of a 250lb bomb that had been buried on the LZ.

Sgt Barnes’ leg was the only part of him that was ever recovered.

Another 155 detonated, wounding Hospitalman Brodie, before the VC were suppressed and the birds came in to take the team out. They had been on the ground for forty-nine minutes. Later patrols discovered that the entire LZ and surrounding hillsides had been liberally laced with explosives, wired with over a mile of comm wire. None of the Recon Marines had hit a tripwire or otherwise triggered a booby-trap (now called Victim-Activated IEDs). Every one had been command-detonated.

This should sound plenty familiar to any veteran of Iraq.

Fast forward to 2005. The Iraqi insurgency’s primary weapon against Coalition forces is the IED, usually consisting of one to five 155mm artillery shells buried in the side of the road, command-detonated by a trigger man watching the Coalition vehicles moving across his target box. In 2006, an IED was found in As Sadan Market consisting of three 500lb bombs buried under the road. As the supply of 155s in Iraq dwindled, either found and destroyed by Coalition forces or used up by the IED cells, they shifted to homemade explosives, but the basics remained the same.