Afghanistan — Department Employs Cameras in Counterinsurgency Fight

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2010 — In the lead-up to the sum­mer fight­ing sea­son in Afghanistan, the Defense Depart­ment is focused on help­ing troops counter the threat of makeshift bombs, employ­ing among oth­er things, cam­eras to catch insur­gents in the act of plant­i­ng explo­sives, a senior depart­ment offi­cial said last week. The mil­i­tary has been using ele­vat­ed, line-of-sight cam­eras as part of its intel­li­gence, recon­nais­sance, and sur­veil­lance coun­terin­sur­gency tac­tics, Ash­ton B. Carter, Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for acqui­si­tion, tech­nol­o­gy and logis­tics, said dur­ing an April 2 con­fer­ence on defense logis­tics mod­ern­iza­tion at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies here.

The cam­eras, which show an aer­i­al view of a stretch of road­way, “are kind of what you see every morn­ing when you turn on the tele­vi­sion and look at the traf­fic report,” Carter said.

“We are going to be, this sum­mer, increas­ing many-fold the num­ber of aero­stat-borne cam­eras,” he added. “They’re ter­rif­ic.”

Carter not­ed he’d vis­it­ed Kan­da­har, Afghanistan, a few weeks ago. Defense offi­cials have iden­ti­fied the city and its sur­round­ing area as a like­ly site for an upcom­ing NATO coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign. A cam­era installed over the city shows a sur­round­ing area of sev­er­al blocks in each direc­tion, he said.

“Every per­son of ill will in Kan­da­har thinks that cam­era is look­ing at them,” he said. “Every per­son of good will thinks that cam­era is pro­tect­ing them.”

Carter said the cam­eras “pro­vide for those peo­ple, under their own con­trol, the same func­tion­al­i­ty that a fan­cy [unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cle] would have,” but are sub­stan­tial­ly less expen­sive.

“I knew I could­n’t dou­ble the num­ber of UAVs in Afghanistan this sum­mer,” he said, “but I’m going to [increase] the num­ber of these ele­vat­ed, line-of-sight aerostats.” The num­ber may increase as much as twen­ty­fold, he added.

The depart­ment also is try­ing to counter impro­vised explo­sive devices with increased train­ing of U.S. and oth­er inter­na­tion­al troops on the dis­tinc­tive nature of Afghan insur­gency explo­sives, and also is pro­vid­ing more equip­ment such as mine-resis­tant, ambush-pro­tect­ed vehi­cles to U.S. troops and allies, Carter said.

The under­sec­re­tary called the IED threat a “triple prob­lem,” that threat­ens not only the lives of inter­na­tion­al and Afghan forces, but also neg­a­tive­ly impacts the mis­sion by hin­der­ing the move­ment of troops.

“If peo­ple can get out­side the wire, mil­i­tary and non­mil­i­tary, then they can do the mis­sion assigned, which is the [coun­terin­sur­gency] mis­sion,” he said. “If they can’t get out­side the wire, then they can’t.”

Speak­ing more broad­ly about how the realms of acqui­si­tion, tech­nol­o­gy and logis­tics aid the war effort, Carter not­ed the chal­lenge of man­ag­ing the high num­ber of con­trac­tors — 107,000, most­ly Afghans — in Afghanistan. That amounts to one con­trac­tor for every 0.7 ser­vice­mem­bers, he said, com­pared to one con­trac­tor for every 1.2 ser­vice­mem­bers in Iraq, one con­trac­tor for every five ser­vice­mem­bers in Viet­nam, and one for one in World War II.

The depart­ment is work­ing to improve over­sight of con­trac­tors in Afghanistan, increas­ing the num­ber of con­tract­ing offi­cers. With 84 per­cent of posts filled so far, they’re pro­vid­ing bet­ter train­ing and sys­tems such as using elec­tron­ic pay­ments to replace the flow of cash to help in reduc­ing the poten­tial for fraud, Carter said.

Also in the past year, he said, 10 gen­er­al offi­cer posi­tions have been added to over­see con­tract­ing at the two- and three-star lev­el, he said.

Carter said his office is try­ing to main­tain a bal­ance “to be excel­lent stew­ards of the tax­pay­ers’ mon­ey on one hand, and be agile and do what is required in Afghanistan now on the oth­er hand.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)