As long as people are dying from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan the war against this horrible weapon will not be won. Nevertheless, under the direction of the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) the Coalition has achieved an unprecedented level of success. Over the past six months, even as the surge in Afghanistan was being implemented, the number of successful IED attacks (meaning someone was killed or injured) declined from around 25 percent of all attempts to about 16 percent. Ironically, the IED success rate in Iraq is actually higher. This is not because Iraqi insurgents are more effective than their Taliban counterparts but rather because the majority of attacks are against Iraqi security forces and civilians who, unfortunately, are not as well protected as Coalition forces. The success rate of IED attacks on U.S. forces has declined precipitously, although any casualties are still too many.
One of the keys to countering the IED threat has been American technology. MRAPs, MRAP-All Terrain Vehicles and armored Humvees and trucks have proven to be life savers in Iraq and Afghanistan. New developments such as a double-V underbelly for the Strykers will continue this trend. Electronic countermeasures were particularly effective in Iraq. Robots have made a major contribution to the fight with some 2,000 being deployed.
The key to an eventual victory will come from the exploitation of information. The people who deploy IEDs or conduct suicide bombing attacks are supported by extensive networks of financiers, bomb builders, strategic planners and recruiters. Understanding the networks, following the money and tracking the movement of people and materials will be critical to “winning” the fight against IEDs. U.S. forces and intelligence services are collecting vast amounts of information of all types. The problem is that there are not enough analysts in the world to sift through all this data. JIEDDO has a critical need for automated tools that can successfully ingest massive amounts of information of all kinds and identify the key information and trends.
The greatest weapon in the battle against IEDs now and in the future is JIEDDO itself. JIEDDO was able to break down the stovepipes between different parts of the military in order to create a unified response to the threat. It also had unique flexibility in using funds to develop and field new capabilities. It was JIEDDO that came up with the idea that the IED fight was about more than just putting armor on vehicles, that it involved understanding and defeating the networks that supported the bomber and also providing the best training for the warfighters in the field.
The IED threat has gone viral; wherever U.S. forces deploy next they are likely to face an IED threat. The threat has even come to the U.S. homeland. It is puzzling, therefore, that the Army has not chosen to convert JIEDDO from a program funded through supplemental appropriations into a program of record, thereby protected with funding from the Army’s base budget. JIEDDO is not alone in being in this anomalous status. The Rapid Equipping Force and Rapid Fielding Initiative, two Army-led efforts to provide warfighters with the best clothing and equipment for the current conflicts, also continue to be funded through supplemental appropriations. All three of these programs need to be treated as major programs of record and protected in the budget downturn that everyone says is coming.
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