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Sergeant Lee Peters is a Scene of Crime Officer with the RAF Police Special Investigation Branch and one of only 5 practitioners qualified in forensic evidence recovery. (Cpl Laura Bibby/Cpl Laura Bibby)
Sergeant Lee Peters is a Scene of Crime Officer with the RAF Police Special Investigation Branch and one of only 5 practitioners qualified in forensic evidence recovery. (Cpl Laura Bibby/Cpl Laura Bibby)

CSI Afghanistan

Canadian Forces bring forensics to the battlefield Add to ...

Three months later, a convoy of the Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadian) regiment was travelling on a mud track when a Leopard tank rolled over a powerful IED that ripped off its tracks and wheels. The driver, Corporal Mark Fuchko, lost both legs.

A CEXC investigator arrived but got only 15 minutes at the scene before the soldiers prepared to leave.

“The On Scene Commander (OSC) did not believe the investigation to be of importance,” the technician complained in his report. “Not providing sufficient time to exploit a scene starves the CIED process of its source of intelligence.”

At the same time, the millions of biometric records and IED fragments already collected have created a data bottleneck.

Last May, two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky were arrested on terrorism charges. The FBI linked one of them to fingerprints on an improvised explosive device (IED) found six years ago in Iraq.

One suspect, Waad Alwan, obtained refugee status two years ago. But it was only last January, after he boasted to an informant that he had planted bombs in the Iraqi city of Bayji that the FBI checked an IED part recovered in the area in 2005 and made a fingerprint match.

An FBI spokesman later explained that the IED hadn’t been examined before because it didn’t explode and wasn’t a priority case.

In other cases, forensic evidence hasn’t held up to scrutiny.

The U.S. government had to apologize and pay a $2-million settlement to an Oregon lawyer and Muslim convert after the FBI mistakenly linked him to prints found at the 2004 Madrid bomb attacks.

U.S. authorities also tried to connect two Syrian detainees at Guantanamo Bay to IED evidence. Military court documents alleged that they were extremists whose DNA matched hair found on IEDs near Mosul in northern Iraq.

However, the two were released without charges, a sign that the DNA link wasn’t strong.

Ultimately, technology can only be a part of the solution. The U.S. created a special command to deal with the problem, the Joint IED Defeat Organization, which received $17-billion in funding. Last fall, JIEDDO director Michael Oates noted in a media briefing that the IED threat would only disappear through civil reconciliation.

“If you don't work to mitigate the recruitment and the enticement for emplacement of IEDs, you will spend an enormous amount of blood and treasure dealing with each individual IED that is put against you,” Gen. Oates said. “It is not a winnable project just to kill emplacers or to just uncover the device.”

But Western armies have to embrace police investigative tools because increasingly they will wage war in failed states, battling snipers, suicide attacks or roadside bombs, said Queen’s University international security expert Anthony Seaboyer.

“There’s going to be more police work,” he said, “because you’re going to have to do much more research to identify who you’re dealing with.”

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