The U.S. military's lead general in charge of protecting troops from improvised explosive devices said Wednesday that he sees a future for his agency, the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), beyond 2014 after U.S. troops have left Afghanistan.
Some have questioned if JIEDDO will survive the specter of shrinking defense budgets and skepticism over the need for the agency without troops in Iraq and Afghanistan -- the two theaters of war in which the IED became the enemy's weapon of choice.
Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, director of JIEDDO, told a crowd Wednesday at a Washington D.C. think that he has heard the questions about his agency's future. He said he typically responds to questions about JIEDDO's future beyond 2014 with a question of his own.
"I always tell people that's the wrong question. The right question is is the IED, and the networks that employ them, here to stay? And they are. So if we have an enduring threat, do we require enduring capabilities? And that answer is obviously, yes," Barbero said.
The U.S. has spent more than $20 billion on JIEDDO since it stood up in 2006. Insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan countered the U.S. military's might with homemade bombs they hid near roadways and paths targeting units on patrols. It quickly became the weapon most feared by troops in the field.
By 2009, the IED accounted for about 60 percent of all U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan. JIEDDO officials have overseen the development of equipment and vehicles built to protect troops from the constantly evolving threat of IEDs. It has worked to build up the fleet of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles as well as the robots that specialize in disarming explosives.
However, there are those who question whether JIEDDO is needed, and whether the services could better address the threat independently. JIEDDO received $2.4 billion in 2012. It has requested $1.9 billion budget for 2013. Some inside the Pentagon wonder if that money would be spent better elsewhere.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter has started a survey of the agencies stood up over the past decade in response to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Carter's team is trying to assess which agencies should stay and which ones will disappear after 2014.
Barbero knows his agency's existence is one under consideration. However, he knows he has the Pentagon's support for the next two years.
"Over the next few months Carter has said we will work through this. But he has told us very clearly our mission, our resourcing, our focus, our support through 2014 remains unchanged and that is our focus," Barbero said. "So more to follow on the future. My view is that there are certain problems and challenges that are best served with a joint response. And this is one of the them."
Barbero explained that he receives plenty of requests for help from combatant commanders in places like Africa and South America. However, Afghanistan and Central Command receive the priority. Once troops leave Afghanistan, those other combatant commanders will receive more help from JIEDDO, Barbero said.
He's not focused solely on roadside bombs either. Barbero knows his agency will face future sea-borne and airborne threats from enemies and must evolve.
"We need to look at the wide range of what is possible and start developing counter capabilities for it whether it is seaborne or in the air," Barbero said.
The JIEDDO director insisted that the key to defeating the IED is attacking the networks that build them, specifically their funding sources. He said the U.S. must make it more expensive for the IED networks to build their bombs. Similarly, he acknowledged Congress' open checkbook to defeat IEDs is closing.
"Their business model is crushing ours. So when I talk to my industry partners, I said that the days of us spending hundreds of billions of dollars on this, hundreds of millions on this, are over," Barbero said. "We now have to be more effective and more efficient. Whatever we develop has to be expeditionary and has to apply in other regions other than Afghanistan."