IEDs have become a scourge for the US military in Iraq, accounting for an estimated 4 out of 5 combat deaths.
Last year, the Pentagon launched a major initiative to combat IEDs, and their more deadly innovation EFPs, by creating the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), tasking retired Gen. Montgomery Meigs to head the outfit. With 400 employees and a 2007 budget of $4.5 billion, it would be newsworthy to report on what JIEDDO is accomplishing.
The latest issue of Newsweek has a good backgrounder on the perplexing problem of fighting the low-tech weapons, but precious little information on what JIEDDO is doing.
About two-thirds of the way into the piece, Newsweek finally cites Gen. Meigs, who says that the recent focus on Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles is only a defensive measure, when going on the offense would be more effective.
Unfortunately, Newsweek doesn't push the issue to explain what exactly Meigs means by that. The article does, however, immediately transition into comments by "a retired general who declined to be quoted by name criticizing his former military colleagues," who is also described as a veteran of the Balkans.
While there are a number of retired generals who served in the Balkans, this also could refer to Gen. Meigs, who commanded NATO's Multi-National Division (North) in Bosnia in 1996, and assumed leadership of the NATO Stabilization Force in 1998-99.
The anonymous general doesn't discuss JIEDDO's work, but tells Newsweek that in order to reduce the threat of IEDs:
One step is to get soldiers out of the vehicles that have too often become their fiery coffins. "What does barreling down a highway at 45mph, peering through a dust-covered windshield, actually accomplish?" asked a retired general who declined to be quoted by name criticizing his former military colleagues. A veteran of the Balkans, this general recalled that his troops had a term for routine, pointless patrols. "Dabbing," they called it, from the caustic acronym for "driving around Bosnia." "'Dabbing' now means 'driving around Baghdad'," says the general. Before he became head of Coalition forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus wrote the Army's new manual on counterinsurgency. For his forces in Iraq, he boiled it down to a series of instructions. Instruction No. 4: "Get out and walk."
Everyone—from the Americans to the British to the Israelis, with their long experience in Lebanon—seems to agree that better intelligence is essential to reducing the IED problem to a mere "nuisance" (Meigs's goal). But good intelligence is hard to come by. Instead, the Americans have resorted to operations like sending out convoys as bait—while drone aircraft loiter overhead to track the bombers, and signals-intelligence teams listen for their communications—followed by a larger force to spring a trap on the attackers. If that tactic sounds a little desperate, a senior military official, speaking anonymously about a sensitive subject, assured NEWSWEEK that such convoys use volunteer crews and very-well-armored vehicles.