WASHINGTON, OCT. 17, 2012 – The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization has two goals in mind as the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 approaches, JIEDDO director Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero said Wednesday addressing a group of defense analysts, academics and diplomats.
“Two years from now as we transition, I would like to say first that we were effective in limiting the IED-related casualties in Afghanistan,” he said. “And second, that we have institutionalized the right capabilities in the right way to allow us to meet this enduring threat,” not only in Afghanistan but throughout the world.
Since January 2011, there have been more than 10,000 global IED events occurring in more than 112 countries executed by about 40 regional or transnational threat networks, Barbero said at the event hosted by the Atlantic Council, a non partisan institution in Washington devoted to promoting transatlantic cooperation and international security.
Outside of Afghanistan, Pakistan had the highest number of IED incidents in September. Its 100 incidents were closely followed by Colombia’s 67, India’s 54 and Somalia’s and Syria’s 19 each, he said.
The IED is the artillery of the 21st century, and the battlefield can occur anywhere and at anytime, he said. It can be a marketplace frequented by residents just as easily as it can be an isolated road where only military convoys travel. Opponents on this battlefield represent a threat network continuum that includes criminals, narcotics smugglers, insurgents and terrorists.
In Afghanistan, which holds JIEDDO’s current focus, there has been an increase in IED attacks — up 52 percent from last year — as coalition forces transfer operational responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces, Barbero said.
Although the percentage of attacks has increased, the number of overall IED events in Afghanistan has steadily declined since June 2012, which was the highest month ever, he said.
When the bomb makers change the recipe of the IEDs, Barbero said JIEDDO quickly adapts as well, and finds or develops new technologies that are able to combat such new threats. An example is the current use of ultrathin wires and non-metal pressure plates in IEDs.
“The most important word in our mission is “rapidly.” That is why we exist,” Barbero said.
This one simple adjective has so much significance to the organization’s mission and adaptability, he said. “Rapidly” applies to mission-critical actions such as researching, financing and fielding counter-IED tools for the ever-changing IED battlefield.
To aid JIEDDO in this quest, the Department of Defense entrusts Barbero with the authority to purchase counter-IED tools and training materials that cost $25 million or less. For anything more than $25 million, JIEDDO quickly seeks special permission from Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter. An example of this unique spending authority is how JIEDDO financed and fielded 210,000 pelvic protection units to troops in Afghanistan within a three-month period in 2011. A second example was the quantity of handheld IED devices JIEDDO acquired and distributed to military training bases such as Camp Lejeune, N.C., for pre-deployment training purposes, he said.
However, even with this special authority, JIEDDO cannot defeat the IED threat alone.
“It takes a network to defeat a network,” Barbero said.
As the DODs lead on counter-IED initiatives, JIEDDO has partnered with the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Commerce and Trade, as well as North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials.
Just as JIEDDO and its partners are collaborating and sharing research, funding and training, so are the threat networks.
The interaction between dispersed threat networks is enabled by the latest information technology, which provides them a platform for recruiting, fundraising, training, information exchanges and social interaction, he said. Their centers of excellence and collections of best practices are open 24-hours a day and shared around the world. They have even developed online tools such as instructional videos, interactive subject matter expert forums and lessons-learned studies to enable and inspire others regardless of their location or experience level.
Because of their flat, dispersed and unencumbered networks, IED tactics and techniques used by insurgents are increasing in sophistication and proliferating globally.
He identified a main difference between warfighters and those in the threat network.
“Whereas in the U.S. military we march to the sound of guns, these threat networks march to the signs of instability and take the IED with them,” he said.
Because instability is universal, JIEDDO monitors global IED attacks daily so it can quickly respond with counter-IED strategies, he said. These include handheld IED detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs, robots and biometric technologies among other capabilities.
Biometrics, which are technologies that measure and analyze characteristics such as DNA, fingerprints, eye retinas and irises, voice patterns, facial patterns and hand measurements, is a vital component of JIEDDO’s “attack the network” line of operation.
“Biometrics are critical,” he said. “We can remove the greatest defense of these groups, which is their anonymity.”
When bomb technicians collect any forensic evidence such as a fingerprint or DNA from an IED or post-blast scene, it is put into a database. That information can then be used to link someone back to a crime or an attack. One example is when the biometric evidence, collected by U.S. forces in Iraq, helped the FBI link two immigrants in Kentucky to terrorist attacks in Iraq.
Barbero said that as long as the threats endure, JIEDDO and its partners must provide enduring capabilities. Some must-have capabilities for the future include:
Institutionalizing counter-IED training
Retaining a whole-of-government approach
Acquiring financial intelligence that follows the flow of money to threat networks
As the U.S. is slated to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2014, people ask Barbero what is to become of his operationally funded organization.
He responded, “That’s not the right question. The question is … will there be an enduring threat in the future.”
Barbero said that IEDs are here to stay.
“A joint response is the best approach for threats such as IEDs,” he said. “There needs to be a joint organization tied in with a global perspective.”
Whether the IED threat is in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia or elsewhere, JIEDDO and its partners “have to do better” to reduce the incidents and deaths, he said.
There is no “silver bullet” that will stop these casualty-producing devices on the battlefields in Afghanistan or at home, Barbero said. However, JIEDDO remains singularly focused on providing rapid counter-IED capabilities to mitigate the enduring threat from IEDs and their networks