Congress Eyes Probe Into Army IED Clearing Program


WASHINGTON -- Congress is poised to launch an investigation into why Army leaders have resisted requests to provide battlefield units with a specific computer program that helps troops locate and clear roadside bombs.

The software program, the Palantir System, is being used by some units in Afghanistan, but Army officials have denied multiple requests for it from others, including the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, which in a May memo cited an "urgent need" for it in the volatile Ghazni province.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, has asked the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to investigate the matter. In his letter, he questioned why an Army report in April that recommended the use of Palantir was rescinded and replaced a month later by a version that deleted some recommendations and favorable references to the program.

Army officials said they also have begun their own investigation. The congressional probe is likely to start within the House Oversight panel.

"The idea that ground combat units in Afghanistan are being denied intelligence tools that are requested and readily available is unsettling and underscores a major failure in a process that is intended to deliver resources to the warfighter as quickly as possible," wrote Hunter, a former Marine who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

According to a memo sent by the 82nd Airborne brigade, other military units and special operations forces in nearby areas use the Palantir program. Because the brigade doesn't have the same program, it is difficult to share data and intelligence. The memo, obtained by The Associated Press, also said that Palantir would give it greater analytical tools.

Defense officials said that Army units are using another system, the Distributed Common Ground System, in Afghanistan, which was built to meet the military and intelligence requirements. It was developed by a team of defense companies, led by Northrop Grumman.

Some Army units are also using Palantir, and the Army is trying to determine if the two technologies can be combined.

The software program merges and analyzes information to help determine where insurgents are planting bombs -- the top killer of U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.

Hunter said data indicates that the military's ability to find and clear roadside bombs increased by about 12 percent when using Palantir. And he noted that in one email exchange an Army officer said that the chain of command believes that using the Palantir system "will save soldiers' lives and limbs."

Palantir is based in Palo Alto, California.

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Army Afghanistan