No Silver Bullet to Counter Explosive Devices, Head of Anti-IED Office Says
By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2006 – DoD is spending almost $3.5 billion this year to defeat improvised explosive devices, and the effort's leader today said he expects the same level of funding in fiscal 2007. Retired Army General Montgomery C. Meigs said the Joint IED Defeat Organization is using an all-encompassing approach to counter the threat of IEDs, terrorists' main weapon in attacks against coalition forces and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Iraq alone, IEDs have killed almost 1,000 servicemembers.
There is no "silver bullet" solution to the leading cause of death for coalition troops, Meigs told media during a briefing in the organization's headquarters here. IEDs are a complex problem posed by a networked terrorist foe. For example, Meigs said, the enemy has changed preferred triggers for IEDs about every six to nine months to stay ahead of U.S. military countermeasures.
IEDs are generally nothing more than artillery shells the enemy plants in the ground rather than shoots from a howitzer or mortar. The specifics of the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan and the type of counterinsurgency operations being fought there negate much of the advantage superior coalition forces typically enjoy against conventional foes, Meigs said.
Fighting a conventional war means keeping the enemy far away and then killing them before they can kill you. "The whole impetus is to keep them away," he said. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the battlefield is towns, villages, cities and rural areas, where it is tough to tell friend from enemy. As a result, the enemy gets close to coalition targets.
"This is a very cagey enemy who has the advantage of going to the marketplace for his (research and development)," Meigs said. "(The enemy) takes advantage of local tribal environmental factors to deliver his fires very close to the target. This is just his artillery system; that's the way we have to think about it. There's no mystery here. The curiosity is in how it is delivered.
"We are making progress in defeating this system," he said. "But we've got to have operational and strategic patience. You are not going to solve this overnight," he added. The general likened the effort to minimize damage from IEDs to the effort the Allies used against the U-boat menace of World War II. That effort took years and the brainpower of thousands on both sides of the Atlantic, and it took the bravery of hundreds of thousands of sailors to finally counter the threat.
The best way to stop the IED threat is to not have the devices planted in the first place. Meigs said attacking the terror network is the key to that. Good intelligence and targeting terror cells -- taking them down from top to bottom -- is the best offensive tactic. Tips from Iraqis have been most helpful in handling the threat. Unfortunately, tips in Iraq have dropped in the past few months as sectarian violence has flared, he said. In April, there were 5,900 civilian tips. In July, that number dropped to 3,700.
Degrading the terror network is also proceeding. Meigs said the coalition has taken out 11 "tier 1" terrorists, or national leaders. Coalition forces have taken out 76 "tier 2" terrorists, or provincial leaders. They have killed or captured 134 tier 3 terrorists since January 2005.
Defeating the devices once they are planted is the heart of the defensive effort against IEDs. The organization has funded additional armor to be used against the "explosively formed penetrators." The kits are being added to all armored vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the organization is funding IED-detection systems, electronic countermeasures and new ways to neutralize the devices.
Training the force is also important to defeating this threat. The organization is involved with getting feedback from troops confronting the threat and ensuring it is embedded in training troops deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan. Meigs -- who commanded NATO troops in Bosnia in the 1990s -- said realistic training is a must for countering the threat.
Meigs said the combination of efforts is working. Even as terrorists have increased the number of IEDs planted, the number of U.S. casualties from the devices has remained about the same. The Joint IED Defeat Organization will continue to fund promising technologies, test capabilities and improve training for those deploying.