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Joint IED defeat capability to endure, at smaller size

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 25, 2014) -- The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, is still relevant and is needed for future conflicts, But its size is expected to shrink significantly, according to its director.

Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson said he'd received guidance from former-Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to "scale JIEDDO down," and to draw up plans for what an "enduring" JIEDDO might look like in the future.

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JIEDDO's mission is to help combatant commanders "defeat IEDs (improvised explosive devices) as weapons of strategic influence." The IED has been called the "signature" weapon of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Johnson said he's confident that Carter's guidance, a request to craft a roadmap for JIEDDO's future, is proof enough the organization will endure after Iraq and Afghanistan -- the two conflicts that necessitated its creation in 2006.

"There is a full appreciation that JIEDDO functions should endure, the key is that it be scaled to what the nation can afford, and we have to be smart as to how we structure it so it can be rapidly expanded as necessary based on the nature of the threat and the challenges we are going to face in the future," Johnson said.

The organization stands now at about 3,000, Johnson said, and he said he'll draw JIEDDO down to 1,000 by the end of this fiscal year. Additional guidance from the deputy secretary of defense could later bring the organization's numbers as low as 400, said the general, speaking at media roundtable last week at JIEDDO's headquarters in Arlington, Va.

Johnson said he will spell out to the deputy secretary what could be done with 400 personnel, and "what are the risks associated with it."

"There are certain parts of an organization like this that if you reduce it beyond a point it could take six months, a year, even longer to reestablish it," he said. "And in that time period, our Soldiers and Marines in the field are suffering from the effects of IEDs and it ends up costing us more to try to fix the problem without necessarily having the sophistication of understanding the entire system of systems."

Some parts of JIEDDO can't be easily scaled. One of the areas he's looking to protect, he said, is the intelligence integration functions of JIEDDO.

"My concern is, right now, we have a fairly persistent look at the organizations that most commonly use IEDs," he said. "If we were to take our eyes off, what are the chances that there would be an adaptation or permutation in the way they use IEDs that we didn't anticipate and how long for us to catch up?"

Also a critical component of JIEDDO that Johnson has marked for retention are the "operational integrators" embedded in combat units.

"We have embedded analysis and operational integrators down with most of the tactical units and in the supporting commands," he said. "Those integrators are able to observe the organization they support, understand what their problems are, and transmit those problems all the way back to the capabilities we have here to either go develop a piece of kit or modify a piece of kit or see their situation in a different light."

That capability, integrators in the units, he said, is something he thinks JIEDDO needs to retain.

"It's that's bottom-up feedback that defines very rapidly not only what any one of those particular units need, but helps telegraph what other units may well expect to see on the battlefield," he said.

He also said that JIEDDO will need to maintain its robust relationships with the research and development communities that support it, pointing out that rapid acquisition to defeat emerging threats requires solutions from a full spectrum of innovative sources.


While pondering a reduction in force, a complete reorganization, JIEDDO still has an ongoing role to play in Afghanistan.

There, Johnson said, the focus is taking care of and protecting forces. He said JIEDDO continues to prepare units with relevant counter-IED training pre-deployment to support their mission.

JIEDDO's mission inside Afghanistan, however, now largely involves advising the Afghan National Security Forces, known as the ANSF. "We don't have as much of a direct role in the fight there," he said referencing the Afghans taking the lead in operations.

In Afghanistan, JIEDDO is training staffs and advisors to help the ANSF use the assets they have -- including equipment and organizations -- to protect themselves and "take the fight to the enemy."

He said in the last six months there has been additional JIEDDO emphasis on helping the ANSF stand up its own counter-IED skills and capabilities in preparation for the 2014 withdrawal of forces.

"As we have not been as directly engaged in combat operations, the ANSF have picked that fight up, and as a result the IED casualties are being felt by the ANSF," he said. "By helping train them, by helping them facilitate their own logistics networks and things like that to get their hands on the equipment that is available to them, they are better able to take this fight on."


The term IED largely entered American vernacular as part of the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Johnson said the term has broader application beyond homemade bombs along convoy supply routes laid as part of an insurgency.

The devices responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, the 2000 USS Cole bombing, and the Boston Marathon attack in 2013 were all IEDs, Johnson said.

While he said he doesn't have responsibility for law enforcement in the U.S., "there is great value in sharing information among the various agencies in our government, to make sure we don't miss out on experiences we've had abroad and how we have benefited from that knowledge here. We collaborate with the other agencies very closely."

After the attack in Boston, he said, "the discussions were really a comparison of experiences to see if there were ways that we could learn from what happened there, and they could learn from anything that we did. One of the most important things we've done is in the investment of the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center, that the FBI has."

He said JIEDDO had invested in Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center during Iraq and Afghanistan because "we needed the highest level of forensic capabilities to take a look at these IEDs and tell us who was responsible from them and also to help us track if they were flowing from one country to the next," he said. Increasing biometric and forensic capabilities has taken the anonymity from those who plant IEDs and has been a tactical game changer on the battlefield.

Outside collaboration with federal agencies in the United States, Johnson said JIEDDO is working with partner nations to asset them with standing up their own organizations that are similar to JIEDDO.

The Colombians, for instance, have a JIEDDO-like capability they've stood up, and Johnson said they have recently visited the United States to discuss that organization and their strategy. He said he hopes he can demonstrate to the Colombians how JIEDDO is organized, and help show them how they are successful. JIEDDO also works with other key allies such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, he said. He also highlighted NATO's establishment of an IED center of excellence in Madrid, Spain.

In Southwest Asia, he said, where operations are still underway in Afghanistan, JIEDDO has developed a partnership with Pakistan to help that country deal with its own IED threat. In particular, he said, JIEDDO is interested in helping stymie the flow into Afghanistan of IED precursors -- the materials, such as ammonium nitrate-based fertilizer, that can be crafted into homemade explosives.

He said JIEDDO is working with industry to find better ways of controlling distribution of materials and "to make sure this very legitimate product is being used in ways it was intended to be used."

He said JIEDDO has seen a reduction in the amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that's being used as homemade explosives, but that "it isn't enough."

With approval in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, and a recent re-approval, JIEDDO has been able to use its own money to pay for other U.S. government agencies to use their authorities in Pakistan to help "get after" the JIEDDO mission.

Agencies that benefit from that authorization include the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice and the FBI, for instance.

The FBI, he said, is training bomb technicians, border police, and customs officials in Pakistan. Additionally, homemade explosive test kits have been provided so border police there can test materials they see moving through their checkpoints.

"There is more work to be done. The Pakistanis are anxious to work with us, and I am excited about the ability to continue to do that," Johnson said.

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