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IEDs all over
An average of 700 IED events take place per month outside Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a JIEDDO spokesman.
The top five countries for homemade bomb incidents between December and May:
When the Army leaves Afghanistan and focuses its attention around the globe, it will not be leaving the threat of deadly improvised explosive devices behind.
“I’m not sure how much people understand how global [the threat of IEDs] is,” said Todd Burnett, a former senior enlisted adviser to the Joint IED Defeat Organization and now an official in Forces Command’s counter-IED integration cell.
IEDs will be a persistent threat to deployed U.S. forces until at least 2020, and innovation will make this type of weapon more effective, according to a report from the Center for Naval Analyses.
Commanders should make IED training a priority, and ultimately, IED awareness training should be part of soldiers’ basic training, Burnett said.
Too few brigade commanders are taking advantage of the available counter-IED training, said Burnett, who was in charge of more than two dozen route clearance teams in Iraq in 2008 and served with the 20th Engineer Brigade of Fort Bragg, N.C.
Africa, where the Army is conducting partner building missions, is seeing plenty of IED violence. In 2011, bomb attacks in Nigeria, Kenya and Somalia rose as al-Qaida-affiliated terror groups used more sophisticated IEDs against more people, according to an Associated Press report. Al-Shabaab, a militant Somali organization, has adopted the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula tactic of using shaped charges in IEDs, JIEDDO says.
In Burnett’s pre-deployment “Counter-IED Road to War” briefing for troops, he talks about IEDs around the globe. The briefing, which comes 240 days before the unit’s Combat Training Center rotation, explains the counter-IED training and resources available to commanders.
“We talk about RC-East, but then we talk about how we’re seeing them in Thailand, Philippines, Syria, Russia, China — you name it, we’re seeing them,” he said.
FORSCOM provides counter-IED training at home station, delivered by counter-IED integration cells (CI2C). The training, now in its second year, complements the at-times brief overview troops receive at the Joint Readiness Training Center before deploying.
CI2C’s focus is to train unit leaders who will teach their soldiers to operate equipment. The cells cover robotics, company-level intelligence support teams, biometrics and search skills, among other areas. The idea is to teach troops how to erode IED networks.
“This is available on every installation for squad leaders to take advantage of, so we’ll train whoever,” Burnett said. “We’ll do individual to collective training events. … Our biggest customer is the platoon level, but it’s all got to tie together how the IED enablers come together in the bigger fight.”
In the short term, Burnett said he would like commanders to make this training more of a priority. In the long term, he said, the Army should one day make globally focused IED awareness training part of basic training for all troops and progressively “layer” instruction throughout a soldier’s subsequent training.
“When we get into pre-deployment, it’s specific to their mission, whether they’re going to AFRICOM, PACOM, NORTHCOM, to some contingent operation we go to the future,” Burnett said.
Unclear future for JIEDDO
His comments come as lawmakers have requested a plan to shutter JIEDDO, a three-star command which has spent tens of billions of dollars to fight IEDs since it began in 2006. JIEDDO fast-tracked technology for the war zone at a time when defense budgets were looser, Burnett said.
According to JIEDDO, late 2011 and early 2012 saw an equipment “surge” for troops on foot that included 1,157 reconnaissance robots and 210,000 pieces of armored underwear.
“We have to realize that the IED is part of our operational environment now,” Burnett said. “If I do a cordon and knock, I’m probably going to run into an IED, and I have to be trained for that.”
Burnett said it’s important to retain senior noncommissioned officers who have IED experience both at the tactical and strategic levels.
Burnett recalls the relative difficulty of shipping people and equipment to landlocked Afghanistan to conduct IED training versus Iraq. He said it is smarter, cheaper and safer to maintain the training at home station.
“Now that we will have longer dwell times, it’s important to still have a layered approach, because we know it’s enduring, instead of having to ramp up all at once,” Burnett said. “If it’s something we can keep the pulse of and we are keeping, we don’t have to go through what we went through to ship equipment into theater and try to train people.”