WASHINGTON, March 2, 2011 — Across Afghanistan, the percentage of effective enemy attacks using homemade bombs declined from August to January, the outgoing director of an agency devoted to defeating those devices 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 the enemy puts out between 1,300 and 1,500 such bombs every month.
“But the most important thing is that … [the enemy’s] percentage of effective attacks is declining. It has come down from 25 percent to 16 percent, and that results in fewer dead soldiers and civilians,” Oates said.
“The enemy,” he added, “is 84 percent ineffective against us.”
But the high number of homemade bombs still being produced means much work remains, he said.
“Because the volume has not dropped, this tells us that the enemy still has the motivation, the financing, the precursor material and the ability to emplace IEDs,” Oates said.
The aggregate data offers a statistical snapshot of activity across the embattled nation, he said, but it doesn’t mean that bomb attacks have been less lethal in hot-spot areas such as the south and southwest regional commands, where deaths and injuries have increased recently.
“To understand this war in Afghanistan or the one in Iraq,” Oates said, “you have to telescope up and down [inside each nation] to get a full view.”
Methods of attack for the bombs also differ by area in Afghanistan, he said.
In eastern Afghanistan, where the Haqqani terrorist network is the principal adversary, Oates said, more command-wire devices and some limited military explosives are used. “Down south,” he said, “it’s almost exclusively fertilizer-based bombs and pressure-plate devices that our soldiers have to contend with.” Those types of bombs, he added, account for 70 percent of the attacks in Afghanistan. Command-wire, remotely controlled bombs remain a very small percentage of the total, the general said.
On the battlefield, Oates said, persistent surveillance is one capability that is helping to reduce enemy effectiveness. Soldiers have equipment such as advanced firearm sighting systems, and airborne platforms — including fixed-wing, manned and unmanned systems – that provide eyes in the sky.
“We’ve increased significantly the number of aerostats, or blimps,” Oates said. “They’re ground-tethered and they’ve got cameras and suites of sensors aboard that can pick up a number of things.”
Sixty-seven aerostats are in Afghanistan now, Oates said. “Commanders there have asked for more,” he added, “and we’re probably going to double that number in the next year.”
This constellation of surveillance sensors that have gone into service over the last nine months is making a significant difference in finding the precursors of homemade explosives, the general said, watching those who try to emplace bombs and understanding how the enemy network is moving things around the battlefield.
Good training and better protective equipment also have contributed this year to reducing the enemy’s effectiveness, Oates said, offering an example.
“Last year at this time, there were 12 or 13 route clearance companies in Afghanistan. Today there are 75,” he said. “That’s an enormous capability to sweep and clear the road on a much more frequent basis and a much more effective basis.”
In addition to protecting troops, keeping areas clear of roadside bombs also enables the civilian population to use the roads, Oates said, noting that the enemy kills more civilians than coalition and Afghan forces.
On March 4, Oates will transfer authority for the organization to Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, who is returning from a 13-month deployment with U.S. Forces Iraq as deputy commander for advising and training.
The new director “has extensive combat experience, and most importantly, recent experience,” Oates said.
Barbero “just came from Iraq three weeks ago, … so he’s going to bring that combat relevancy that’s so vital to the directorship,” he added.
Oates pointed out that the organization was chartered to respond rapidly to warfighters’ needs. “I think we’ve met that challenge,” he said. “The people we care most about — the soldiers and Marines overseas — they’re very happy with our work.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)