Afghanistan — General Sees Progress in Counter-IED Fight

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2010 — More sen­sors, ana­lysts and spe­cial­ly trained dogs — com­bined with stronger ties with local civil­ians and those who gov­ern them — have fueled progress in the bat­tle against road­side bombs in Afghanistan, the direc­tor of an agency devot­ed to that effort said yes­ter­day.

Dur­ing a brief­ing at his organization’s head­quar­ters in Arling­ton, Va., Army Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates, direc­tor of the Joint Impro­vised Explo­sive Device Defeat Orga­ni­za­tion, said tech­nol­o­gy can help to mit­i­gate the dead­ly threat to coali­tion forces only if it’s inte­grat­ed with an effort to pre­vent peo­ple from plant­i­ng them in the first place.

Despite an increase in inci­dents that tracks with the build-up of forces in Afghanistan, Oates said, “my assess­ment is we’re mak­ing progress” in the fight against IEDs. The grow­ing num­ber of forces in the coun­try and increased fight­ing caused the num­ber of road­side-bomb inci­dents in Afghanistan to spike to 8,994 in 2009 -– from 2,677 in 2007 — and to near­ly 10,500 so far this year.

Offi­cials hope to mod­el their strat­e­gy to counter the dead­ly devices in Afghanistan on suc­cess­es in Iraq, where the down­ward trend of inci­dents illus­trates the suc­cess of the strat­e­gy there, Oates said. In 2007, Iraq report­ed near­ly 24,000 inci­dents; so far in 2010, the num­ber is just over 1,100.

Oates said to be suc­cess­ful in Afghanistan, the strat­e­gy must com­bine coun­terin­sur­gency efforts that include trained counter-IED forces, an effec­tive Afghan secu­ri­ty force and polit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of ene­my fight­ers. Those who con­tin­ue to tar­get coali­tion forces must be killed or cap­tured, but that alone is not the solu­tion, he said.

“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,” the gen­er­al said.

In its approach to coun­ter­ing road­side bombs, JIEDDO attacks the enabling net­work, search­es out and destroys the bombs and trains forces to iden­ti­fy and clear them. From fis­cal 2006 to 2010, $5.4 bil­lion has gone into efforts to attack the bomb-mak­ing net­works, accord­ing to a JIEDDO report.

“IEDs don’t come up out of the ground like mush­rooms,” Oates said. Net­works fund and sup­ply explo­sive mate­ri­als to those they can con­vince to build and plant the bombs.

Under­stand­ing the ene­my net­works holds huge poten­tial, Oates said. “We’ve only begun to scratch the sur­face there,” he not­ed, “but the effort we’ve put into under­stand­ing them and how they oper­ate has pro­duced very seri­ous, tan­gi­ble results.”

Detect­ing bombs is a com­plex chal­lenge, Oates said. Since fis­cal 2006, near­ly $9.5 bil­lion has gone into this effort.

“Since 2004 in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the detect rate has hung at about 50 per­cent — we find 50 per­cent of the IEDs that are used against us,” Oates said.

Troops patrolling on foot with a host-nation part­ner and a bomb-sniff­ing dog have the best detec­tion rate for road­side bombs -– some­times as high as 80 per­cent, Oates said. But such a team also faces the great­est risk, because by neces­si­ty it works close to the bombs, he added.

JIEDDO uses a range of tech­nol­o­gy to remote­ly detect explo­sive devices, includ­ing unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles, ground-pen­e­trat­ing radar for low-metal­lic explo­sive devices, robots and roller sys­tems. But that tech­nol­o­gy also pos­es chal­lenges, the gen­er­al said. Data pour­ing in from sen­sors must be ana­lyzed, inte­grat­ed and turned into use­ful intel­li­gence that troops on the ground can use. The job requires ana­lysts, as well as com­put­er soft­ware and hard­ware.

“We have met the chal­lenge to date,” Oates said. “Turn­around on the data to an analy­sis prod­uct is pret­ty decent, but we antic­i­pate more of a chal­lenge here in the future.” Over the next year, he said, about 800 ana­lysts will deploy to the com­bat the­ater to help com­man­ders under­stand the ene­my net­work and pro­vide ana­lyt­i­cal prod­ucts.

Train­ing is a crit­i­cal aspect of the strat­e­gy, and $2 bil­lion has gone into that part of the effort since 2006, Oates said.

“Prob­a­bly the great­est return on invest­ment dol­lar for dol­lar is to help train our sol­diers about the net­work that is fight­ing them and the IED as a device,” Oates said. “So we put a great deal of effort into that as well.”

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

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