- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Army general in charge of defeating roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan says the most effective tool is “two men and a dog,” even though the military has spent nearly $10 billion on new detection and clearing technologies.

Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates said his task force is surging anti-bomb resources — human and technological — into Afghanistan to support the expanded U.S.-led coalition troop presence there. But he acknowledged that he has more work to do to find ways to measure how effective their efforts are.

Gen. Oates’ task force, Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), was established five years ago and has spent $16.6 billion — about $9.4 billion of it on technology to detect and neutralize homemade bombs that can be built and hidden in a variety of ways.

Gen. Oates said technology, like the electronic frequency jammers used in Iraq to prevent bombs from being detonated by cell phones or TV remotes, has been successful, but the highest detection rates were still achieved using K-9 units and trained handlers.

“The majority of IEDs are still found by well-trained soldiers in partnership with their host-nation forces and using a dog. That is still the greatest return on investment at this point,” he said.

**FILE** U.S. Army soldiers from Scout Platoon, 502 Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, return to an outpost after a long patrol in Zhari district in Afghanistan's Kandahar province on Oct. 11, 2010. The Scouts' mission was to support roadside bomb clearance efforts in the militant stronghold, the latest days-long phase of Operation Dragon Strike. (Associated Press)
**FILE** U.S. Army soldiers from Scout Platoon, 502 Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne ... more >

Gen. Oates also confirmed a Washington Times report last month that the organization expects to trim its budget for 2012.

“We are based against the demands from theater,” he said. “I do anticipate seeing a [budget] reduction, consistent with reduced demand,” resulting from the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq.

He did not elaborate, and JIEDDO staff were unable to provide a figure.

The general, who assumed command of JIEDDO in December, addressed criticism from congressional investigators and other watchdogs that his task force has lacked strategic focus and has had weak internal management controls.

“Some of that criticism has been valid over the years,” he said, promising to “take a look at all of the … faults that have been identified” and make a “good-faith effort to correct those.”

He said the task force had surged resources to Afghanistan over the past four or five months, deploying “persistent surveillance capability” such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), hand-held and vehicle-mounted detection gear, road-clearing machines and K-9 teams of sniffer dogs.

The speed of the deployment “present[ed] some challenges,” the general said, including preparing enough sites from which to launch UAVs, and collecting and interpreting all the data from their video cameras and other sensors.

“The data and translating that into analysis requires some software and some people on the ground,” he said.

Eight hundred analysts would be recruited, trained and deployed to Afghanistan over the next year to help in that task, he said. “We are meeting the challenge.”

But he said demand would continue to grow as more and more new kinds of sensors were deployed. At the moment, he said, the military’s data highways were coping with the load.

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