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IEDs: Combating Roadside Bombs

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Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata
Deputy Director for Operations, Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization
Tuesday, October 2, 2007; 10:30 AM

Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization was online Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 10:30 a.m. ET to explain the difficulties faced by the U.S. military in trying to beat IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The transcript follows.

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Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: Hello, Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Tata here. I am currently the deputy director for operations of the Joint IED Defeat Organization. Most recently I served as the Deputy Commanding General of the 10th Mountain Division and Combined Joint Task Force 76 in Afghanistan. I will attempt to answer as many questions as I can in the time we have.

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Lexington Park, Md.: Where do the explosives come from? Was Iraq so awash in explosives that they are readily available to every man woman and child, or are they home-brewed or imported from sympathetic countries?

Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries were awash in stockpiled ammunition; particularly explosives that can and are used in IEDs. The enemy also is using homemade explosive to generate a significant portion of the IED threat. There is evidence that explosive capabilities are imported from sanctuary outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Bombmaking instructions are readily available on the Internet. However, not every man, woman and child has the means or intent to make IEDs -- in my experience, the great majority of citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan are supportive of the coalitions and want peace for their respective countries.

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Los Angeles: How about "dummy" Humvees and Bradleys that are unmanned? Make them look real, but save costs by using cheap materials (fiberglass?) and exclude armor and unnecessary interior equipment or electronics. If there's a convoy with two real and two dummy vehicles your casualty count should go down 50 percent in theory. The Iraqis won't know the difference since they detonate anything they see. The dummy vehicle could be steered by itself or by remote from someone in a real Humvee from a trailing position or perhaps sensors placed on the roadsides. You would need several vehicles, but the cost wouldn't be prohibitive.

Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: We have multiple efforts underway to explore and test this capability. Some prototypes have been used in-theater and we are continuing to integrate lessons learned and enhance capabilities.

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Rockville, Md.: When I started with the Navy about a decade ago, EOD dealt with countermeasures for conventional munitions and IEDS. It seems now like a variety of military entities are striving to address IED countermeasures. What do you think is driving this shift? Is this change resulting in some "out of the box" thinking?

Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: One of JIEDDO's responsibilities is to integrate the capabilities of all of the Services to better defeat IEDs and their networks. There is no question that the Navy and Air Force understood the spectrum as a battle space better than the Army and Marine Corps, initially. What you are seeing now is a merging of capabilities across all of the armed services as we continue to fight this threat.

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Washington: General, why are the IED attacks in Afghanistan lower and less effective in relative terms (63 percent deadly in Iraq, 41 percent in Afghanistan)? Is Iraq setting the trends in Afghanistan?

Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: We do see enemy tactics, techniques and procedures exchanged between Iraq and Afghanistan. The enemy takes advantage of the Internet to share information. It is difficult to compare the two theaters: there are far fewer combat forces in Afghanistan than in Iraq and the nature of the insurgencies are dramatically different. Actually, casualties per incident in Afghanistan are roughly equal to casualties per incident in Iraq.

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Detroit: How successful have American forces been in catching not only the people who plant these devices, but also those who make them?

Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: We have a major focus on attacking the IED networks underway. JIEDDO operates along three lines of operation: defeat the device; attack the networks; and train the force. Attacking the networks is where we see the biggest dividends in stopping the shipment, construction and emplacement of IEDs. The IED is the enemy's weapon of choice and he exposes himself as he transports, finances, assembles and emplaces the IED. Our goal is to enable units to better attack those nodes. These efforts are paying off and coalition forces are experiencing success in dismantling IED networks.

Further, experiences of commanders returning from the field show -- and I saw this in Afghanistan -- that clear-hold-build works. Once coalition forces separate the enemy from the people, they bring in indigenous police forces to hold the security gains and then build trust and confidence as well as conduct reconstruction. We see tips go way up; we see bomb makers turned in; we see IED networks dissolve. There is no greater ambassador for the American people than a war-fighter on the ground interfacing with the local population; and that works.

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Peterborough, N.H.: Brig. Gen. Tata -- would you be interested in a micro spectrometer on a chip, which would detect explosives and could be installed in a cell phone with GPS?

Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: We are interested in any technology or ideas that have the potential to save lives, protect the force, and kill the enemy. JIEDDO is working with industry, academia, the research community, and all the armed services to identify IED defeat solutions. We actively are soliciting proposals through a Broad Agency Announcement, and we soon will be hosting our semi-annual Outreach Conference, where we share specific requirements and capability gaps in a classified forum.

Proposals can be submitted online right here. A link to this site, and information about the Outreach Conference, also can be found at JIEDDO's Web site.

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McLean, Va.: Sir, although I understand you cannot reveal details, I am wondering if work is being done to detect any unique measurable signatures associated with the manufacturing of IEDs. Thank you.

Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: We are evaluating every alternative. We are soliciting input from every possible source, including industry, academia, other nations, etc. Unfortunately in this forum we cannot share all that we are doing to protect our troops.

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Boston: Is TRL Technologies (U.K. company now part of L-3) a part of the counter-IED program? They had some interesting technology developed originally in response to "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland.

Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: We have a very close working relationship with the United Kingdom and have British officers embedded in our staff. We meet regularly to exchange information, including learning from the U.K. experience. The U.K. faces all of the same threats U.S. forces do in both Iraq and Afghanistan, so it is to our benefit to partner in all respects.

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Washington: More of a comment than a question, but as a former soldier who dealt with IEDs in Iraq, most of the technical solutions that were passed our way didn't seem to pass the common-sense test. It seemed that many people developing the solutions were Ph.D. types who were very smart, but lacked the operational experience to develop usable products -- i.e. not enough feedback from the sergeants and the lieutenants. How is JIEDDO working to avoid this problem?

Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: Thanks for your service and your comments. First, we have combat veterans, including Wounded Warriors, serving on our staff. Second, we meet regularly with units returning from combat to develop "Ten Emerging Best Practices," and we conduct frequent field visits. Third, we have field teams in both theaters working with units at the small-unit level. Last, we try to achieve a balance between the optimal solution in the far future and a workable solution that could save lives today. So, you may have seen some equipment that was less than optimal, but on balance, the feedback we get is positive.

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Bethesda, Md.: For what its worth, I support you and your organization's work. However, can you respond to current discussions that your organization's work is not furthering the IED fight?

Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: JIEDDO absolutely is making a difference in the IED fight as we support the combatant commanders and the troops in contact. We have fielded more than 32,000 jammers that prevent remote-control triggered IEDs; we have helped field additional armoring on thousands of vehicles to mitigate IED effects; we have provided attack-the-network capabilities with human terrain teams that help commanders better understand the social networks in their areas of operations; have fielded intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities; and provided law enforcement professionals who help commanders better understand the enemy's decentralized, criminal-like networks. Also, we have provided significant training support for all deploying troops by fielding surrogate training systems and enhancing the operational environments in our training centers to better reflect conditions in-theater.

As a result, troops on the ground find more than 50 percent of the IEDs that are emplaced. Another 40 percent of the IEDs are ineffective, meaning they don't cause casualties. Of the remaining 10 percent, most troops involved in IED attacks are able to return to duty within 72 hours.

However, one casualty is too many and we absolutely are committed to reducing as much as possible the number of troops who are killed in action or seriously injured.

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Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata: Thanks for your questions. This is an incredibly important issue for our military and our nation. Please know that we all are committed to reducing the IED threat to our troops. While much work remains, we continue to make progress in our goals to defeat the device, attack the networks and train the force so that we ultimately can defeat the enemies of our nation.

While we have talked briefly about some specifics, please go to our Web site for more. Thank you again for your time and concern for our servicemembers.

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