DoD Joint Task Force Making Progress Against IED Threat
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 18, 2005 Crudely assembled and easy to make, improvised explosive devices are the biggest threat to servicemembers in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the head of a new Pentagon task force looking into ways to better protect troops.
"It is the method the enemy uses that accounts for most of the killed and wounded in action," Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel said. "It is the primary way the enemy makes contact with us. That's why it's so important that our soldiers pay attention to the training that they are getting."
In an April 15 interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service, Votel explained that training servicemembers how to be aware of IED threats has become a main focus of the new Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Task Force.
In the summer of 2004, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz created the task force to come up with solutions to mitigate the effect of IEDs on servicemembers in Iraq. The Army created its own IED Task Force in 2003.
Such training, the general said, has led to better odds for servicemembers to survive IED attacks.
While the incident rate of IED attacks has gone up, the casualty rates are actually declining, he said. In 2003, a servicemember had a 50-50 chance of dying in an IED attack, Votel said. That number has since decreased to about 18 percent, he said.
"We've done a pretty good job of trying to reduce the casualty ratio, and we've been able to reduce that by about 40 percent over the last year," he said.
Votel said that one key area of training has been in situational awareness. "We've always been aware of unexploded ordnance hazards, and we've always sort of preached that from a safety standpoint, ... but making our servicemembers aware of this is a key piece," he said.
Other efforts that have led to a decline in the number of casualties have come from experience gained in theater. The services have added more uparmored equipment and applied new technology, such as the use of "jammers" against "radio-controlled initiation devices," which Votel said have also proven to be effective.
He said jamming technology is "no silver bullet," but it is "one tool in our tool kit that can be applied."
Votel insisted the best weapon for servicemembers against the IED threat is "to be alert and to watch their surroundings."
"The very best sensor we have out there is our servicemembers," he said. "We can't replicate their brains or their eyes, so we've got to train them what to look for."
Still, he pointed out that the ultimate goal of the Task Force is to stop the "bombers and bombmakers" before they strike."
His organization is also focusing on technology, training and operations that will allow the military to go after those responsible for IED attacks in the first place, he said.
"A lot of our efforts can be focused on protecting ourselves against the blast," he said. "But ultimately, to defeat this threat, you have to go after the people that are actually doing this, ... to kill or capture them, so we prevent the IEDs from even being emplaced."