By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 29, 2009 - The Defense Department expects U.S. forces in Afghanistan to continue to be targeted by improvised explosive devices -- which have claimed more lives there than any other weapon -- while it seeks ways to counter the threat, officials said. As President Barack Obama and his advisors weigh decisions on the next phase of the Afghan war, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is working to protect against and defeat the growing threat from IEDs, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today, noting that October has been the deadliest month for U.S. forces in the eight-year war.
"Secretary Gates is working to ensure that this department continues to do everything possible to provide our men and women in uniform with the very best protection and capabilities to defeat the growing IED threat," Morrell said in a news conference at the Pentagon.
More intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, including the most advanced drones and other equipment, are among the supplies the department is working to field to troops in Afghanistan, where one defense official today said the IED has emerged as the enemy's preferred means of attack.
Gates last month ordered nearly 3,000 extra route clearance and explosive ordnance disposal teams and other key personnel downrange, in addition to a parcel of the more than 6,600 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles designed specifically for Afghanistan's rugged terrain that the department plans to field.
Morrell has said previously the department would like the M-ATVs, as the vehicles are known, to have an effect in Afghanistan similar to the one that the original MRAP vehicles had when they were delivered en masse to Iraq, leading to a reduction in casualties resulting from roadside bombs.
"Even with all these additional counter-IED resources, there will no doubt be many difficult and dangerous days ahead for our forces," Morrell cautioned.
A Defense Department component dedicated to countering the IED threat, meanwhile, indicated that use of the makeshift bombs has gained widespread appeal among insurgents in Afghanistan.
"Although initially slower to develop in Afghanistan [than in Iraq], the IED has now replaced direct-fire weapons as the enemy's weapon of choice," Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, director of the department's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, said today.
"Furthermore, Afghanistan's local insurgents, tribal factions and the Taliban enjoy a greater freedom of action to emplace large numbers of IEDs in movement corridors, such as the ring road, which are so vital to our success," Metz told the House Armed Services Committee.
The organization, known as JIEDDO, formed as a means to aid combatant commands in addressing IED attacks. Metz said he is pleased with the organization's efforts in Iraq, and that it will remain focused on the country as U.S. forces draw down in accordance with an agreement between Washington and Baghdad.
But lessons gleaned in Iraq are not always applicable to Afghanistan, Metz added.
"In addition, while we have an enormous amount from our experience in Iraq, not all of these efforts translate to our efforts in Afghanistan," he said. "The environment and the enemy in Afghanistan pose many different and difficult challenges."
Though it's impossible to chase IEDs off the battlefield, Metz said, the United States must continue to eliminate their ability to affect its forces strategically.
"We must be willing to invest the money, the time, the energy, and the talent to make sure we win," he said. "This is not an easy task, but I believe that it is necessary."