As we reported yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has created a new counter-IED task force to do what the current counter-IED task force apparently isn’t doing well enough, namely, counter-IEDs. Gates’ is clearly frustrated with the current counter-IED effort, run by the Army, that he says is slow to come up with solutions, does not rapidly adapt to different IED tactics and bomb networks in Afghanistan, and has too many separate initiatives underway that are not collaborating.
Of course all of this integrating counter-IED efforts was supposed to be the job of the “Joint” IED Defeat Organization. We asked JIEDDO what this new task force means for them and how they will contribute to the new effort. We’ll let you know what we hear from them.
Gates is bringing his now customary, very hands-on, “if you want it done right, do it yourself,” approach to the IED fight. “I will meet with the task force and expect a report from them monthly… probably for about six months… I just want to make sure that all of these different organizations in the department are moving together and cooperating – breaking down the stovepipes,” he said yesterday, speaking to reporters (it sounds like he’s sticking around as SecDef for at least six more months).
We’ve seen Gates take the same approach with the building and buying of MRAP vehicles - a process he saw as too slow, getting more aerial drones into the wars - also too slow and not an Air Force priority, the larger issue of defense spending - not oriented enough to current wars, nuclear weapons stewardship, the Army’s care of its wounded veterans, and on and on. In each case, Gates has moved fast to shake-up the status quo; he gets things done.
The new task force will be run by Ashton Carter, undersecretary for acquisition, and Lieutenant General Jay Paxton, the J-3 of the Joint Staff. Gates said the new task force will coordinate closely with commanders on the ground in Afghanistan. Gates said the IED fight in Afghanistan is very different from that of Iraq
“More than 80 percent of our casualties [in Afghanistan] are coming from IEDs. It’s a very different kind of challenge than in Iraq. The terrain is different, the road system is different – both paved and unpaved and nonexistent. The composition of the IEDs is different to a considerable extent. In Iraq they were mostly – they’ve mostly based on artillery shells and so on. And in Afghanistan, we find that a lot of them – especially the bigger ones – are made from fertilizer, like ammonium nitrate, with mines as detonators. The networks are different -- structured differently in Afghanistan than in Iraq. So it’s a different kind of fight that we face here.”
He asked the new task force to examine the Soviet experience battling IEDs during their war in Afghanistan in the 1980s - when the CIA under Gates was supplying weapons and know how to the Mujaheddin - for possible lessons learned to counter Taliban IEDs.
How bad did the Soviets get hammered by mines and IEDs? According to the man who has written many books on that war, Lester Grau of the Army War College, the Soviets lost 1,995 soldiers killed and 1,191 vehicles to mines in Afghanistan.