The Pentagon’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) has spent about $20 billion since 2006 in an all-out effort to counter the roadside bombs and homemade landmines that have become the deadliest weapons used against American and NATO forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Because of that investment, the number of IEDs found and destroyed this year in Afghanistan is up almost 100 percent over 2010, while the destruction of caches of bomb-making materials is up 200 percent. All good news. But while we’re finding and destroying more IEDs, record numbers of bombs are still hitting their targets. “We’re seeing historic highs” of IEDs, with a record 1,600 “events” in June and July, JIEDDO’s chief, Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero said last month. And while the numbers of IEDs continues to skyrocket, American forces know that a full 80 percent of those bombs planted in Afghanistan—resulting in 90 percent of all U.S. casualties—are made with ammonium nitrate fertilizer that come from just two legally operating factories in Pakistan. Even though NATO forces know exactly where those factories are, and who the brokers are who sell their goods, so far there has been nothing they can do to stop the flow of materials to Afghan insurgents, according to Barbero.
While the threat in Afghanistan continues to rise, JIEDDO certainly has its hands full in that theater of operations, and it currently has 200 staffers deployed at the battalion level gathering intelligence on the networks that traffic in bomb-making materials and collecting forensic evidence to determine the particulars of each bomb. But that isn’t stopping Barbero from pushing to get his people spread out anywhere American forces may be deployed.
Speaking earlier this week, Barbero said that even though U.S. forces are pulling out of Iraq at the end of this month (for now, at least), he is working “to have a presence in the Office of Security Cooperation” at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which would allow the organization to support the 16,000 State Department employees remaining on the ground, as well as the 5,000 security contractors paid to protect them. It would also help in sharing forensics and intelligence information with the Iraqi Security Forces.
But with an average of over 600 IED attacks globally every month outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, Barbero says that JIEDDO is committed to tracking the threat globally, and currently hosts exchange officers from Australia, Canada and the U.K. He’s also working on extending JIEDDO’s global reach by “putting cells into each of the combatant commanders' headquarters to exchange real time information that they have on the networks” in their area of operations.
When it comes to new capabilities, Barbero pointed out that he had recently been shown a civilian radar system that could be converted to help spot command wire and other anomalies on the ground, and his office is currently testing several kinds of throwable robots with plans to “flood [Afghanistan] with as many as they want” once soldiers testing the ‘bots decide which model they like the most. Looking to the future—where the Army envisions a continuing fight against a hybrid threat that will require more emphasis on small unit actions—Barbero says that any technologies or intelligence gathering protocols that are identified as “enduring capabilities” must be scalable for use by units from the size of a Special Forces team to a division.
In the end, Barbero says that the Army is going to have to work to remain agile enough to adapt as the enemy changes his tactics, techniques and procedures, and the Pentagon and defense industry must try and stay as flexible as they’ve become during a decade at war. It’s not going to be easy. Decentralized terrorist and criminal networks are “seamless, flat, networked, and ten times more agile than ours,” he laments, and to try and keep up with them will require constant innovation.