The Spreading Threat of Roadside Bombs and other Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)

Contributor:  John M. Doyle
Posted:  01/02/2013  12:00:00 AM EST
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Tags:   CIED | John M Doyle | JIEDDO

The war in Afghanistan may be winding down over the next two years but that's not the case with homemade bombs and booby traps, according to the commander of the Defense Department unit battling improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“I believe the IED and the networks that use these asymmetric weapons will remain a threat to our forces [overseas] and here at home for decades,” U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero told a congressional committee in September.
Barbero is director of the Defense Department's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). Since its creation in 2006, it has used high tech detection systems, body armor, trained bomb sniffing dogs, unmanned air and ground vehicles, and heavily armored vehicles to thwart attacks on troops and civilians, first in Iraq and now, Afghanistan.
“The IED is the weapon of choice for threat networks because they are cheap, readily available, largely off the shelf, easy to construct, lethal and accurate,” Barbero told the House Appropriation Committee's defense spending panel Sept. 20.
Between Fiscal Years 2006 and 2011, JIEDDO has received more than $18 billion on Counter IED (C-IED) programs. According to the Government Accountability Office, the Defense Department has spent billions of dollars developing C-IED capabilities including $40 billion on mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles – large, lumbering trucks and wheeled-personnel carriers known as MRAPs. The August 2012 GAO report faulted the Defense Department for sometimes duplicative efforts and recommended better coordination and oversight. During 2012, JIEDO spent $60 million on hand-held detection devices for training troops before they are deployed to Afghanistan and other dangerous assignments, Command Sgt. Major William High, JIEDDO's senior enlisted advisor told a Washington meeting in November.

Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Stephen Schester, 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
FORWARD OPERATING BASE AZIZULLAH, Afghanistan-U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Joshua Lail, an explosive ordnance disposal technician deployed from the 4th Civil Engineer Squadron, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., uses a control unit to maneuver a Talon
Yet IEDs are still the leading cause of civilian, military and law enforcement casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Barbero told a Senate subcommittee hearing in December. “More than 60 percent of U.S. combat casualties in Afghanistan – both killed and wounded in action – are a result of IEDs,” he added.
And the problem is spreading. Since January 2011, there have been more than 10,000 global IED events occurring in 112 countries, including India, Ireland, Iraq, Nigeria, Norway and Pakistan, according to the IED Incident Tracker , a website operated by Partners International Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO).  JIEDDO says those bombings were carried out by more than 40 regional and transnational threat networks, which have shown themselves to be resilient and extremely violent. Barbero says globalization, the Internet and social media “have extended the reach of these organizations” and provided platforms “for recruiting technical exchanges, training, planning, funding and social interaction.”
JIEDDO focuses its efforts upon a three-point mission: defeating the threat device; attacking the network that created and deployed it; and training the force on how to deal with the other two.
To meet those challenges, Barbero thinks it is crucial to institute five counter IED capabilities. First, maintain the ability to acquire and rapidly deploy new C-IED technologies to keep up with the constantly changing threat environment. Second, fuse all information from all sources to produce actionable intelligence that can be shared rapidly with security partners. Next comes permanently integrated C-IED training while hanging on to the lessons already learned long after U.S. forces leave Afghanistan. The fourth capability is timely collection and analysis of forensic evidence like DNA and fingerprints. This Weapons Technical Intelligence (WTI) – developed in partnership with the FBI – helps identify and also target those responsible for bomb attacks. The fifth and final capability is a “whole-of-government” approach to the global IED threat, by synchronizing C-IED efforts with domestic and international security partners. In other words, IEDs are not just a military problem with a solely military solution.
For Fiscal 2014, U.S. lawmakers have authorized more than $1.5 billion to fund JIEDDO efforts.

In 2010, the U.S. Army developed interactive computer software to train troops before deployment overseas to anticipate and prevent IED attacks. (U.S. Army photo) Beginning in February, Afghanistan-bound Soldiers and servicemembers can use the "Recognition of Combatants-Improvised Explosive Devices" computer-based interactive multimedia trainer to help prepare for deployment. The program helps train warfighters to anticipate and prevent IED-related incidents in theater.

The spread  of IEDS around the globe and U.S. efforts to deal with them will be among the topics discussed later this month at the Counter IED  Training Forum (Jan. 28-30) in Arlington, Va., sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. (

John M. Doyle is a Washington-based defense and homeland security writer. A former congressional editor at Aviation Week & Space Technology, he has written about military and homeland security issues for Defense Technology International, Seapower, Smithsonian Air & Space and Unmanned Systems. Before that he was an editor and reporter with the Associated Press in the Midwest, New York and Washington. He now blogs about counter terrorism and where it crosses paths with unconventional warfare, robotics and other technology, soft power and homeland security at He can be reached at
John M. Doyle Contributor:   John M. Doyle

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