WASHINGTON – For more than a decade, the United States has targeted insurgents from the sky with increasingly advanced drones, launching air strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other volatile countries. But the practice may be contributing to a new trend: foreign militaries and insurgents are using tunnels and other underground networks more and more to hide and gain a tactical advantage – and that increases the likelihood that U.S. forces will face them below ground in the future.
The U.S. Army just issued a warning about tunnel warfare as part of a new effort seeking high-tech robotics, communications gear and other equipment. Army officials requested industry’s help earlier this month, saying “the growing use of tunnels and underground facilities by military and irregular forces to gain a tactical advantage is becoming more sophisticated and increasingly effective, making the likelihood of U.S. forces encountering military-purposed subterranean structures on future battlefields high.”
The Army did not identify any specific country in which they expect tunnel warfare will occur, but said the Middle East is full of ancient and modern underground systems that can be used by enemy forces. Examples include Syria, where rebels have used them extensively; Iraq, where they are rumored to stretch for miles; and Egypt, where the military flooded many of them with sewage earlier this year, before President Mohammed Morsi was removed from power.
In southern Afghanistan, Taliban fighters have used them to hide weapons and to disappear after ambushing U.S. forces. In South Korea, military officials fear their North Korean counterparts have dug a series of deep tunnels that will allow them to invade their U.S.-aligned neighbor. And in Mexico, tunnels under the U.S. border are used to smuggle in massive quantities of cocaine and marijuana.