- The Washington Times - Friday, October 30, 2009

The U.S. military has made progress but still has work to do in coordinating efforts to fight deadly improvised explosive devices being used against American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report Thursday.

The GAO’s analysis of the Pentagon’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) found that the 3-year-old group has made improvements in collecting data and tracking successful anti-improvised explosive devices (IED) strategies, but still has no way of coordinating all of the efforts by various divisions within the armed services.

GAO analysts said the value of the group’s work has been limited by the fact that “there is no comprehensive database of all existing counter-IED initiatives.”

The Pentagon has about 500 initiatives under way to nullify IEDs — ranging from improving technology to collecting intelligence — leading to the likelihood of duplicated efforts, said William M. Solis, director of the GAO’s Defense Capabilities and Management division.

Military leaders acknowledged at a congressional hearing Thursday they have work to do in coordinating and evaluating their efforts.

JIEDDO Director Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz told a House Armed Services oversight subcommittee that improving defenses against IEDs remains a top priority for the U.S. and its allies.

“The weapon of choice for violent extremists is the IED and will continue to be for some time,” Gen. Metz said. “We’re settling in for a marathon run. I think it’s a long fight against IEDs in a world that’s going to have a lot of instability.”

While the danger from IEDs first gained prominence in Iraq, Gen. Metz told the House panel that insurgents in Afghanistan have dramatically stepped up the use of the devices as the war there has intensified. Enemy IEDs have also grown more sophisticated, from basic “control-wire” detonated bombs early in the Iraq conflict to more complex radio and infrared triggered devices.

The Pentagon said this week that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had recently increased the number of route-clearance and explosive-ordnance disposal teams and other key personnel in Afghanistan, and plans to deploy more than 6,600 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles designed specifically for the country’s rugged terrain.

Gen. Metz also noted that IED use has expanded well beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to conflicts around the globe.

In separate incidents in late September, the FBI arrested a 24-year-old Afghan immigrant and a 19-year-old Jordanian, who agents say were plotting to explode IEDs in New York and Dallas.

Insurgents’ ever-changing tactics and technology in using IEDs have made it hard for military leaders to focus on a single counter-strategy, Gen. Metz said.

“This is a very dynamic and often not intuitive business that we’re in,” Gen. Metz said. “It requires a constant alertness.”

To that end, he asked lawmakers to scrap the use of supplemental spending bills to pay for the anti-IED efforts and to include JIEDDO funding in the baseline annual budget for the Department of Defense.

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