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American Forces Press Service

General Sees Progress in Counter-IED Fight

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2010 – More sensors, analysts and specially trained dogs -- combined with stronger ties with local civilians and those who govern them -- have fueled progress in the battle against roadside bombs in Afghanistan, the director of an agency devoted to that effort said yesterday.

During a briefing at his organization’s headquarters in Arlington, Va., Army Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, said technology can help to mitigate the deadly threat to coalition forces only if it’s integrated with an effort to prevent people from planting them in the first place.

Despite an increase in incidents that tracks with the build-up of forces in Afghanistan, Oates said, “my assessment is we’re making progress” in the fight against IEDs. The growing number of forces in the country and increased fighting caused the number of roadside-bomb incidents in Afghanistan to spike to 8,994 in 2009 -– from 2,677 in 2007 -- and to nearly 10,500 so far this year.

Officials hope to model their strategy to counter the deadly devices in Afghanistan on successes in Iraq, where the downward trend of incidents illustrates the success of the strategy there, Oates said. In 2007, Iraq reported nearly 24,000 incidents; so far in 2010, the number is just over 1,100.

Oates said to be successful in Afghanistan, the strategy must combine counterinsurgency efforts that include trained counter-IED forces, an effective Afghan security force and political reconciliation of enemy fighters. Those who continue to target coalition forces must be killed or captured, but that alone is not the solution, he said.

“If you don’t work to mitigate the recruitment and the enticement for emplacement of IEDs, you will spend an enormous amount of blood and treasure dealing with each individual IED that is put against you,” the general said.

In its approach to countering roadside bombs, JIEDDO attacks the enabling network, searches out and destroys the bombs and trains forces to identify and clear them. From fiscal 2006 to 2010, $5.4 billion has gone into efforts to attack the bomb-making networks, according to a JIEDDO report.

“IEDs don’t come up out of the ground like mushrooms,” Oates said. Networks fund and supply explosive materials to those they can convince to build and plant the bombs.

Understanding the enemy networks holds huge potential, Oates said. “We’ve only begun to scratch the surface there,” he noted, “but the effort we’ve put into understanding them and how they operate has produced very serious, tangible results.”

Detecting bombs is a complex challenge, Oates said. Since fiscal 2006, nearly $9.5 billion has gone into this effort.

“Since 2004 in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the detect rate has hung at about 50 percent -- we find 50 percent of the IEDs that are used against us,” Oates said.

Troops patrolling on foot with a host-nation partner and a bomb-sniffing dog have the best detection rate for roadside bombs -– sometimes as high as 80 percent, Oates said. But such a team also faces the greatest risk, because by necessity it works close to the bombs, he added.

JIEDDO uses a range of technology to remotely detect explosive devices, including unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-penetrating radar for low-metallic explosive devices, robots and roller systems. But that technology also poses challenges, the general said. Data pouring in from sensors must be analyzed, integrated and turned into useful intelligence that troops on the ground can use. The job requires analysts, as well as computer software and hardware.

“We have met the challenge to date,” Oates said. “Turnaround on the data to an analysis product is pretty decent, but we anticipate more of a challenge here in the future.”

Over the next year, he said, about 800 analysts will deploy to the combat theater to help commanders understand the enemy network and provide analytical products.

Training is a critical aspect of the strategy, and $2 billion has gone into that part of the effort since 2006, Oates said.

“Probably the greatest return on investment dollar for dollar is to help train our soldiers about the network that is fighting them and the IED as a device,” Oates said. “So we put a great deal of effort into that as well.”

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