The Pentagon has just announced that the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), the field agency set up to deal with the threat of terrorist Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq and Afghanistan, is to be radically scaled down. The official goal for this reduction is to improve “oversight and accountability” but inevitably there are going to be suspicions that the real aim is to save money. That’s always a priority for politicians, and as I’ve discussed before, the military itself is always looking for ways to use its budget more efficiently. But, there’s a big question mark over whether cutting counter-IED resources is the most sensible way to do it.
The US military is a relative newcomer to counter-IED warfare. While a lot of experience in dealing with booby traps and improvised mines was amassed during the Vietnam War, most of it was lost during the late 1970s and 80s as the Army transitioned to a professional force and the majority of Vietnam vets returned to civilian life. The threats the military faced during that period, and into the 1990s, centred on conventional warfare against the Warsaw Pact or countries like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. While IEDs were a concern, it was mostly suicide truck bombs like those used against the Marines in Lebanon. Apart from a few courses run by light infantry and special operations units, the art of dealing with IEDs had largely faded away by the turn of the millennium.
That wasn’t true for all of the United States’ allies, of course. The British Army faced an increasingly sophisticated terrorist IED threat from the Provisional IRA, and as a result developed a wide range of techniques and equipment to deal with it. Disruptors, wheelbarrow robots, ECM to jam triggering systems, high risk search teams and the system of 5 and 20 meter checks are all legacies of the war against Irish Republican terror.
Things began to change in 2003, when Coalition forces overthrew Saddam Hussein and occupied Iraq. Two years later, the existing OEF and ISAF missions in Afghanistan began to expand and merge into a single unified mission covering the whole country. US and allied forces soon proved they could take on and defeat the insurgents in conventional combat, but instead of conceding, the enemy in both countries increasingly employed the use of IEDs. While the first devices were crude beyond belief, the sheer number of IEDs deployed, combined with their often enormous explosive power, soon started to cause casualties and the death toll mounted rapidly. Of 14,627 US military casualties between 2009 and 2011, an alarming 8,680 – 59% – were caused by IEDs. For 2011, the year I left Afghanistan, that proportion had risen to 63 percent.
The US military is not going to face a near-peer opponent any time soon. The only possible exception right now would be a deployment to Ukraine; the Russian military, close to home and under the protection of its formidable SAM umbrella, would be capable of putting up stiff opposition in a heavy metal fight. Anywhere else troops might go, however, they’re going to easily overmatch the enemy in stand-up combat – and the likely result is a rapid shift to IEDs as the main threat. The whole world knows the problems terrorist bombs have caused – the BBC even made a rather good comedy series about it – and no potential opponent is going to shy away from trying the same tactic.
It’s legitimate to discuss whether JIEDDO made the best use of the budget and resources allocated to it – it’s been accused of duplicating the work of other agencies and adopting a “Not Invented Here” approach to equipment and TTPs – but there’s no question that counter-IED warfare needs significant and continuing commitment. It’s going to be as much of a threat in the future as it has been for the last decade; as the Boston Marathon atrocity showed, the terrorist bomb isn’t a weapon that is confined to the battlefield. There are disturbing hints that the DOD wants to scale back CIED efforts and move resources back to high-tech platforms designed for conventional war, and that’s a shift that the troops on the ground just can’t afford.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.