Despite Military Progress, IEDs Still a Threat, General Testifies

By Kevin Mooney | October 1, 2008 | 5:04am EDT

Over the past year and a half, U.S. forces have had greater success in intercepting and disrupting improvised explosive devices on the battlefield, witnesses told a House Armed Services subcommittee on Sept. 16.

( - Over the past year and a half, the U.S. military has had greater success in intercepting and disrupting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the battlefield, witnesses told a House Armed Services subcommittee on Sept. 16.
However, those witnesses cautioned against losing focus, as terrorists and insurgents continue to fall back on weaponry that is cheap and easy to deploy.
The U.S. Defense Department’s Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) was formed in 2006 for the purpose of counteracting the weapon’s strategic influence. JIEDDO pulls together expertise from academia, industry, and government to help neutralize the IED threat to soldiers and civilians, according to the U.S. Defense Department.
As previously reported, IED-caused casualties have dropped almost 90 percent in Iraq since the troop surge went into a full effect in June 2007. The database shows that U.S. IED-caused casualties in Iraq peaked at 84 in May 2007, the month before the surge was completed.
Even so, members of the subcommittee expressed reservations about expanding JIEDDO’s mission to include additional asymmetrical challenges. (Asymmetric warfare, in general, refers to the lopsided struggle between two warring forces where the weaker force may use unconventional warfare to achieve its ends.)
“One question we and the [Defense] Department have to consider is what we’ll do as other asymmetric threats come along,” subcommittee Chairman Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) said. “Should JIEDDO inherit them or will that dilute its focus, which is claimed as its core strength? Should we build a new JIEDDO-like organization for each new threat as it comes along?”
JIEDDO, which began as a 12-man operation, has grown to include about 3,600 government, military and contract personnel, Snyder noted.
In June 2007, as Gen. David Petraeus launched his operations into al Qaeda sanctuaries in Iraq, IED-caused casualties dropped to 71. In July 2007, they dropped to 36. By December, they were down to 8, the lowest number since August and September of 2003, the first year of the war.
In spite of the recent success U.S. forces have had in pre-empting the use of IEDS, however, they will never be completely removed from the battlefield -- and they remain the “weapon of choice” for the enemy in Iran and Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz testified. Metz currently serves as JIEDDO’s director.
Although IEDs remain a potent threat, the strategies and techniques that have been employed since JIEDDO was established have yielded “dramatic” results in the form of fewer casualties, Metz told committee members.
“In June of 2003, the enemy generated more than one coalition force casualty with each IED he emplaced,” testified Metz. “Today, he must emplace over nine IEDs to cause one casualty. The combined impact of that trend with the continued emphasis on disrupting the capability of insurgent networks to generate and emplace IEDs has dramatically improved the survivability of our forces.”
In its first year, JIEDDO emphasized “defeating the device.” But after experiencing considerable success in this area, it is now concentrating on disrupting the networks that are responsible for constructing and financing the IEDs, Metz said.
Some of the lessons the U.S. military has learned in Iraq and Afghanistan can be applied in other parts of the world where asymmetrical challenges are equally acute, Metz told Although the terrain is different, some of the principles applied against IEDs overseas are being shared with the U.S. Southern Command and with U.S. allies in Colombia, he indicated.
The “institutionalization of JIEDDO,” which is favored by some top Defense Department officials, is open to debate, as-much coveted capabilities must be balanced against funding realities,” said Snyder. He also suggested that JIEDDO could lose focus if it is assigned too many additional tasks.

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