Outgoing IED Defeat Organization Chief Speaks Out

The former head of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, now-retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz recently spoke with USA Today. When we sat down with this Silver Fox a couple of years ago, he struck us as a gracious man crammed into an abysmal, windowless office a mile from the Pentagon. He had a 1-inch peep hole on the sole entry/exit to his sparse command post.

“Is that so he can check on you,” I asked. “No,” responded the Marine colonel missing my failed attempt at humor, “It’s so we can check on him.” He was serious.

That peep hole serves as metaphor to the efforts to defeat the IED. The JIEDDO does some things very well, like fielding gear to find and defuse (blow) IEDs. But JIEDDO and allied units seem to fall short in defeating the network, preferring to attack it in a sort of 21st century trench warfare fashion. Billions have been spent on the IED effort.
In the USA Today interview Metz says efforts to defeat the IED have been hampered in large part by U.S. reluctance to share intelligence and latest technology.

This seems to be a recurring theme with a long history. While this malady runs from Washington to the front in Iraq and now Afghanistan, he says the word from commanders in the field is the U.S. has to figure out this information sharing.

Metz points to unit concerns over divulging sources, but notes that does not have to be the case. (Old news.) He provides an example—jammers. All nations have them, and everyone uses a different one meaning frequencies are anyone’s guess. But no one is talking. It seems the jammer war is as hot as the IED hunt—and both squander time.

Where does JIEDDO stand in all this? Coach? Referee? You can read their mission statement. You can read their work in attacking the network. USA Today and Metz barely touched the network, this all-important IED symphony replete with thugs (and paid locals) who play from inception to BOOM. The apt phrase that one rarely hears is “left of boom,” meaning the U.S. and its allies stop or at least interrupt the network before IEDs make it to their target.

JIEDDO is far from a total failure, but its efforts fall short and for reasons that extend beyond information sharing. They have published a tally of IEDs in Afghanistan that far exceeds numbers in Iraq (a smaller nation). Though many are duds, it says the choking network may be king. It will be interesting to see how ramped up counterinsurgency efforts will impact this challenge.

The Army stood up the original organization in 2003 to find a solution to the improvised explosive device that appeared in Iraq.

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