WASHINGTON: Defeating the terrorists’ weapon of choice is and will remain a priority for the Defense Department, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said here Dec. 30.
Mr. Lynn spoke during a Pentagon ceremony where Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz stepped down as director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization and Army Lt. Gen. Michael Oates took up the charge.
The organization looks for ways to defeat terrorists using car bombs, roadside bombs, as well as suicide vests, all examples of improvised explosive devices. The bombs are the biggest killers of American servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The weapon is a tactical device that has impacted the operational missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We must preclude the IED from impacting us strategically,” General Metz said. “We cannot allow this weapon to influence the national-level decisions of our most senior leaders.”
“Under (General Metz’s) leadership, JIEDDO has moved forward on three lines of operation: attacking the networks that place IEDs, devising ways to defeat the device and training our forces to counter the threat,” Mr. Lynn said.
The organization, only four years old, is a model of rapid acquisition, Mr. Lynn said. Its military and civilian staff quickly finds and employs ideas and technologies that can help servicemembers in harm’s way. The organization operates with the services and combatant commands in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The threat continues, Mr. Lynn said, noting that in October IEDs claimed the lives of 41 coalition soldiers in Afghanistan and one soldier in Iraq. The devices “are a clear and present danger,” he said.
And the enemy knows how to use the devices.
“In Afghanistan we are up against a determined and clever foe who mastered the use of this deadly technology long before our forces set foot in the mountains of the Hindu Kush,” Mr. Lynn said.
The Soviets lost nearly 2,000 soldiers and 1,200 vehicles during their nine-year war in Afghanistan, he said.
“That IEDs have defeated another technologically advanced military in the very same place we fight now, only adds to the urgency of our mission,” Mr. Lynn said. “Our ability to project power in this world of asymmetric threats and to secure our population at home depends on JIEDDO’s success.”
Measuring success remains an issue for the organization.
“We may never find a way to determine how many lives and limbs we are saving, how many warfighters return home with their eyesight and how many have avoided serious burns that would have left them in pain for the rest of their lives,” General Metz said.
The departing general thanked his staff, citing their dedicated and professional service. He also told them he is proud of the work they did together and the record they have made. He said getting the organization made a permanent entity was the toughest challenge of his time.
Still, a number of challenges remain, he said.
“JIEDDO’s establishment is a mandate to bring us to the reality of the enemy we currently face,” General Metz said. “Our role is to ensure that the fight we are currently in has a champion; one that can take prudent risks and rapidly respond to the warfighters’ needs.”
The organization has a transparent process in place to manage funds, “but if we add more and more layers of bureaucracy and thus time to get things done, we relinquish the initiative to the enemy,” the general said. “The enemy is smart, innovative, agile, cunning and ruthless.”
Minimizing bureaucratic roadblocks will assist JIEDDO, General Metz said, since the enemy operates in disregard of Defense Department contracting rules and budget cycles.
General Oates thanked General Metz “for looking out for our soldiers” and said he was proud and happy to be part of the organization. The incoming general also pledged to work with all to solve the very complex problem posed by improvised explosive devices.