Pentagon Counter-IED Group Heads to Iraq as Attacks Surge

Two U.S. Marine Corps Husky mine detection vehicles staged to lead a route clearance mission in in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Cpl. Alejandro Pena/U.S. Marine Corps

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Two U.S. Marine Corps Husky mine detection vehicles staged to lead a route clearance mission in in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

The Joint IED Defeat Organization will deploy to Baghdad help stop roadside bomb attacks, but will have to rely on Iraqi soldiers to disable and destroy bombs. By Marcus Weisgerber

The Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) is preparing to deploy members to Iraq where 145 roadside bomb attacks carried out by Islamic State militants killed more than 804 people and wounded more than 1,287 last month, according to officials and documents.

That’s more than double the number of IED attacks in Afghanistan in October, according to JIEDDO data. There were 74 IED attacks in Afghanistan last month, killing more than 302 people and injuring more than 298.

“We will be assisting with training in Iraq and with providing the assistance to the warfighters with situational awareness and analytics as we have in Afghanistan and as we did when we were in Iraq last time,” Lt. Gen. John Johnson, director of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, said in an interview on Wednesday.

JIEDDO has a lot of experience in Iraq where its members spent much of the last decade analyzing roadside bomb attacks and leading efforts to build technology to find and defuse these explosive devices. But unlike the last time when U.S. soldiers were in a leading role, this time is different since Americans are in advisory and assistance roles.

“I think the challenge in Iraq for us is going to be working by, with and through the Iraqi Security Forces,” Johnson said.

“There’s a lot of assessment going on right now to see where are their skills, what’s the status of their equipment, that kind of stuff, so that we can … bring the right kind of training assistance to bear there to help them do the things that they’re clearly having to do right now,” he said.

IED attacks carried out in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has shown that the threat has not diminished, Johnson said.

“IEDs are playing a huge role in that conflict,” he said.

And the fight to defeat IEDs is getting more complicated every day as bomb makers change the materials they are using to build these explosive devices and how they use them.

“Every time we confront them and are successful in inhibiting their ability, they work hard to overcome that,” Johnson said.

This has been the case over the years as bomb makers have altered the material and technology used in IEDs. A decade ago, devices contained lots of metal. When soldiers began using metal detectors, IED makers started using less of it. Soldiers then began using ground-penetrating radar and other types of sophisticated technology find the bombs, often buried under dirt roads.

And IED makers are adapting even faster as bomb-making instructions are readily available across the Internet. “Our enemies continue to iterate, continue to adapt,” Johnson said.

“I think that’s tied to the ability for our enemies to connect in the various types of communication that are out there now,” he said. “It keeps us on our toes all the time looking for new technologies, new techniques and what we can do to either adapt existing equipment or come up with new equipment or better analytics to help the force in the field deal with the threat that they’re facing.”

JIEDDO technicians are constantly building prototype bombs with current and future technology to find ways to defeat future IEDs.

“[I]t’s a problem that is not going away and that in whatever the next inevitable conflict is going to be, we’re going to see the use of IEDs,” Johnson said.

This all comes as JIEDDO is in the midst of shrinking after more than a decade of ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The organization, which once included more than 3,000 people, will drop to fewer than 1,000. The downsizing details are still being ironed out with Pentagon leadership.

The Technology JIEDDO Is Using To Find IEDs

— Handheld Detectors: Everything from a standard metal detector to ground penetrating radar. It has also deployed body-worn sensors that allow a soldier to keep his head up and now looking at the ground. JIEDDO is using new automated training equipment makes sure a soldier uses the proper bomb sweeping techniques. This will speed up training and increase the number of soldiers trained, officials said.

— Vehicle Mounted Sensors: JIEDDO has fielded larger versions of the handheld detectors that can be mounted on the front of virtually any military vehicle. It is now working to combine different vehicle sensors into a single system.

— Drones and Robots: These small drones and have special cameras that can see at night and hot spots on the ground that could be a bomb. These lightweight drones and robots can fit in a backpack and the robots can climb stairs.

— Video Game-Like Trainers: JIEDDO is developing a training system akin to popular video games. The life-like virtual trainers simulate ground patrols where a soldier would need to use different types detectors or tools to find IEDs buried in the road.

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