Graeme Wood reports from Afghanistan:
IEDs are among the least tractable problems precisely because the are among the most simple. Last month, before the Marines pushed into Helmand, US Marine Lt. Col. Scott Fosdal put the problem to me starkly: "We can put more armor on our vehicles, but they can just use bigger bombs." It is difficult to see how the situation does not favor the insurgent, both tactically and strategically.
With predictable speed, the Marine Helmand operation has gone from what military types like to call "kinetic" (i.e., lots of guns being fired and bombs blowing up) to more sedate. This second stage is, paradoxically, almost as dangerous as the first, because the Taliban favor roadside bombs and have progressed beyond the journeyman stage in their craftsmanship. As ISAF and the Afghan National Army plant roots and begin trying to hold Helmand -- a province the size of West Virginia, and even better armed -- they need convoys to bring supplies, and road patrols to maintain a security presence between villages. Every one of these movements is vulnerable. Just last week, a roadside bomb in Lashkar Gah killed Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the highest-ranking British combat death since the Falklands.
For the price of today's one bomb -- a large one -- the Taliban bought the lives of five men, and the time of dozens more. This scene will be repeated hundreds more times in months and years ahead.