‘IEDs Are the Battlefield,’ General Says
“They are using small arms to lure us into IEDs when we are dismounted. They’re using small arms to set up an IED engagement when were mounted, and they’re using small arms to break … contact. It is all about the IED,” Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, said at a Jan. 26 talk at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
He quoted one combatant commander serving in Afghanistan: “It’s not a case of IEDs on the battlefield. IEDs are the battlefield.”
“Before, these were complementary capabilities on the battlefield, which led to either a direct engagement or facilitated maneuver, or firepower, but this is the weapon. This is the fight,” Barbero said.
Barbero’s comments came only hours beforeSecretary of Defense Leon Panetta delivered a “Defense Budget and Priorities” document outlining what capabilities the Pentagon would like to cut and what it would like to “protect." The details of the Pentagon's fiscal year 2013 budget request — including specific funding for JIEDDO — will be revealed Feb. 13.
Meanwhile, roadside bombs continue to take their toll on U.S. forces. The proliferation of IEDs is fueled by the reality of inexpensive and easy to obtain components, such as circuit boards and ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer component that can be used as the explosives.
“Their C4ISR model is crushing ours,” Barbero said of the insurgents’ command, control, computers, communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Compared to the counter-IED efforts of the U.S. military and federal bureaucracy, which is scattered over multiple departments and agencies, the networks that design, fund and emplace bombs are nimble, he said. “They are flatter, virtual, unencumbered,” he said. As for their use of the Internet to carry out operations, “It is relatively secure. It’s cheap, seamless.”
They use social networking as a means for recruiting, sharing tactics, techniques and procedures, rehearsals and to transfer funds, he added.
“You have to continue to invest in defeating the device. That is what drives down the casualties, but that is playing defense,” Barbero said, noting that he believed that the IED scourge is here to stay, and the tactic will continue to be used globally as a weapon of terror. There are some 500 IED incidents per month outside Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
JIEDDO has a three-pronged approach. One is defeating the device by detecting the bombs before they detonate, or by improving protection for troops and vehicles.
U.S. forces also had great success in Iraq by “attacking the network.” The third element is “training the force.” That is where he sees room for improvement.
“I think our biggest gap is training. We are working it as hard as we can. But we have improved training. We are really focused on that,” he said.
“At the end of the day, our best counter-IED capability is the soldier or Marine who knows how to use these [capabilities] — what looks right and what doesn’t,” he said.