We’ve known for a long time that even for all of its hard work, the Pentagon office charged with figuring out ways to defeat the deadly scourge of roadside bombs—Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, in Pentagonese—was fighting a moving target.
JIEDDO, the Joint IED Defeat Organization, started by Congress in 2006 and funded to the tune of $20 billion over the past 5 years, has come under withering criticism over the years, and is the subject of a new investigative piece from McClatchy newspapers and the Center for Public Integrity.
The piece doesn’t really unearth much of importance that we didn’t already know, but does manage to sprinkle some tidbits of interest. For example, JIEDDO spent $400 million for “Army force protection” (meaning: unclear) in 2010 and $24 million to hire private contractors for intel operations in Afghanistan, and the authors list several technologies that either didn’t work, or that insurgents quickly managed to overcome.
Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, who left the organization recently—the third director in five years, which points to some internal problems—told the reporters that “we fund things … sometimes we fund things that don't work. Some call that waste; I call it risk.” To that Bill Solis, the director of defense capabilities and management at the Government Accountability Office, retorted that funding the right projects has been “a weakness from the beginning. They don't have good controls over start-ups.” Not only do they allegedly not have good control over start ups, but they’re fighting for space with a whole host of other offices within the different service branches that are working on the IED threat independently of JIEDDO, which was supposed to be the Pentagon’s coordinator of the fight.
Another thing that the IED shop has never managed to overcome are basic management and record-keeping issues. JIEDDO has long been criticized for failing to keep a centralized database of its various initiatives in order to prioritize what has worked, and what hasn’t, and there is no indication that they’re any closer to building one today than they were several years ago.
Many of these problems have long been known, and consequently picked apart by critics. So much so that back in 2009, SecDef Gates kick started a new anti-IED program, Task Force Paladin, which he said he wanted to “break down the stove pipes” that keep the various counter-IED groups sprinkled throughout the military from working together. “We have people working all these different pieces,” he told reporters. “My concern is whether all this has been properly integrated and prioritized and aligned, and whether we are adaptable and agile enough.”
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told me at the time that with the institutional muscle that the new task force was being given, it was hoped that it would be able to get the services to begin working together rather than working the problem separately. Morrell said that Gates “had a very tight meeting with some of the principles involved, where he announced this … he was meeting with the ISR Task Force, the MRAP Task Force, JIEDDO, intelligence officials, with CENTCOM, and with ISAF,” to hatch his plan. “This is more than a JIEDDO problem,” he continued, “if it’s just the bombs themselves, that’s one thing, if it’s just the vehicle protection itself, that’s one thing, if it’s just the intelligence, that’s another thing. [Gates] wants to make sure that all of these efforts are integrated and collaborating, and that’s what this is about. It’s not a shot at any one of those organizations, but he thinks that we’re now confronting a situation in Afghanistan where we have to make sure we are all pulling in the same direction in order to get ahead of these guys.”
That was about 18 months ago. JIEDDO has been turning down my repeated requests for interviews for at least the past year, so their view on the whole thing is a mystery. But we have the numbers, courtesy of the McClatchy piece. In 2010, 3,366 Americans were wounded and 268 killed by IEDs in Afghanistan, up from 168 killed, and 1,211 wounded in 2009. More bombs were planted last year than in previous years, of course, and more are being found, but those numbers don’t look like success.
Pic: US Army