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House Questions Joint IED Success Claims

Claims made by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization that it is defeating IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan are hard to back up with any real data, the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations said in a report.

JIEDDO spends more than $4 billion annually on attacking human networks, providing training support and in rapid acquisition of IED countermeasures, mostly jammers. From an ad-hoc Army task force created in 2003 JIEDDO has grown to a 3,000 person organization. The House investigators looked at metrics JIEDDO uses to demonstrate success. They found: "It is impossible to demonstrate which of the specific initiatives and programs supported by JIEDDO are effective and to what degree."

House investigators say DoD has invested billions of dollars and created a sprawling organization but IED use continues and, in Afghanistan, is spreading. IED attacks have become a global phenomenon, the report notes, with 200 to 300 IED attacks each month outside of Iraq and Afghanistan.

One indicator of success that JIEDDO uses is that over time insurgents in Iraq have been forced to use ever greater numbers of IEDs to inflict casualties on American troops. The subcommittee report says other factors may influence the lower casualty rate, including better ISR, improved TTPs, more tips from locals on IED locations and better armoring of vehicles. Also, the fact that insurgents are able to emplace a greater number of IEDs is perhaps not the best indicator of success. "Measuring JIEDDOs success beyond anecdotes… remains difficult," according to the report.

IED attacks in Iraq have dropped dramatically from 2007 levels, as have all insurgent attacks in Iraq. But that drop is due to factors such as the surge, the Anbar Awakenings, Muqtada al Sadr’s ceasefire, more than any specific JIEDDO effort, the report says. More troubling is that IED attacks in Afghanistan have dramatically increased over the past two years.

The committee is also concerned that JIEDDO is expanding its focus into other asymmetric threats, which could dilute its counter-IED efforts. Conversely, the subcommittee's investigators worry that other costly task forces may spring up within the military as various asymmetric threats arise. "If JIEDDO is a good model for an organization that can respond to a particular threat, but should not be distracted from its focus on IEDs, should OSD consider separate organizations for each new credible asymmetric or disruptive threat?"

JIEDDO has spent more than $2.3 billion on developing jammers to thwart simple trigger devices such as two-way radios or garage door openers. Oddly, the subcommittee fears the economic impact of comparable efforts to counter different types of triggers that are so easy to devise. JIEDDOs development timeline is very accelerated, with the goal of getting a piece of gear out into the field within 12 months. Still, the subcommittee report said other DoD rapid fielding initiatives have been more successful at getting equipment rapidly to the troops than some of JIEDDO’s efforts.

The report quotes Gen. Thomas Metz, JIEDDO director, who says, “IEDS are weapons of strategic influence because they attack the national will and try to undermine and eliminate Western influence.” But Metz is also quoted as saying the use of IEDs can never be completely eliminated and that, “In its most fundamental form, the IED is a lethal ambush, and men have been ambushing their enemies for thousands of years.” This statement seems to contradict the claim that the IED is a strategic weapon and returns it to where it more likely belongs, as one of many weapons available to the asymmetric fighter.

It was probably a mistake for the military to elevate remotely detonated bombs or land mines to a "weapon of strategic influence." While there were likely funding considerations involved, it elevates IEDs to a category where they don’t belong, in my view. The IED is a common battlefield weapon, one that is clearly difficult to counter and when it hits its target can be extremely deadly. That it has had a strategic influence has more to do with U.S. public perceptions of what we were getting into in Iraq and the low American tolerance for casualties.

The critical tone of the report is off base, in my opinion. In times of war it makes sense to throw the one thing the U.S. government has in great abundance, money, at threats that are killing troops in the field in an effort to find some way to stop them. JIEDDO could probably use a little more oversight from within OSD, but it should be allowed to continue in its entrepreneurial way to fund whatever manner of harebrained schemes in the hopes that they might turn out a real solution. After all, it’s just money, and not that much in the grand scheme, while a potential solution that may emerge could actually save lives.

The report makes the following recommendations:

- Transition JIEDDO funding from the supplementals to the base budget.

- Allow JIEDDO to continue to push the technological envelope for new countermeasures even if it means failed projects (but only if IEDs are causing casualties).

- Eliminate redundant counter IED efforts across DoD.

- Beef up DoD’s oversight over JIEDDO.

- Develop real metrics to determine JIEDDO’s success or failure.

- Involve the combatant commanders in JIEDDO’s acquisition efforts.

- DoD must be mindful of creating further redundancies as it expands JIEDDO’s efforts to counter other asymmetric threats.

- JIEDDO should provide training to all the services, not just the Army.

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