WASHINGTON — The Iraqi government and security forces in Baghdad want beefed-up security in the city and coalition forces want the ability to counter unmanned aircraft threats from the Islamic State group, according to Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency officials recently returned from a trip there.
The Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency director, Lt. Gen. Michael Shields, was sent on a fact-finding mission at the request of Defense Secretary Ash Carter two weeks ago to determine how the Pentagon might be able to help the government in Iraq stabilize and secure Baghdad. JIDA will become the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization (JIDO) in October.
"This isn't the Iraq of 2005 or '06 when I was a Stryker Brigade commander fighting in Mosul and then onto Baghdad," Shields said Tuesday at a National Defense Industrial Association explosive ordnance disposal symposium in Bethesda, Maryland. "Today's fight is a combination of conventional and hybrid warfare. It's complex and with much ambiguity, making it tough to distinguish legitimate targets and then, of course, in the most complex urban terrain and civilians as well."
The US Central Command commander, Gen. Joseph Votel, has called it the "gray zone," Shields noted.
Shields said he would not yet share the recommendations he has for Carter, but said, "There is no quick or easy way to solve the Baghdad security challenge," adding it is "pervasive, ubiquitous and it's morphing."
Accompanying Shields on his one week trip to Baghdad in July was Navy Capt. Mike Egan, who is JIDA's chief of the integrated delivery branch. While Egan also did not outline any recommendations soon headed to the defense secretary's desk, he did talk about what the US military, Iraqi political leaders and security forces stressed would be important to stabilize Baghdad and what would help them fight against the Islamic State group.
Among the officials Shields met with were the US ambassador to Iraq; Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the commander of the coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq; Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, the Combined Joint Forces Component Command commander for Operation Inherent Resolve; Brig. Gen. Scott McKean, the chief of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq; and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
"What did I hear over there? What the uniformed guys are telling me, and this is what I'm telling industry, is if anybody hasn't noticed, there is no successful counter-[unmanned aircraft systems] in Iraq," Egan said. "There is no counter-UAS that works in Iraq," he repeated.
Egan said the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad, which included the chief of police as well as the city's operations center commander, needed what they are calling, "over-feasible, comprehensive, integrated, layered security plans."
He added, "We have to make Baghdad safe because until the people of Baghdad are safe, Iraq doesn't have a chance as a whole."
Right now Iraqi approval ratings for al-Abadi is about 9 percent, Egan noted. "The other 91 percent want him ousted and he's like, 'I'd love to switch that percentage and get the Iraqi people believing again that the government is doing something see about their safety and security,'" he said.
What that could look like is a collection of capability to include Persistent Threat Detection Systems (PTDS), something like "balloons over Baghdad," Egan said, as well as cameras at intersections, and closed-circuit tv systems.
What one State Department official in Iraq said the country didn't need was more civil-military fusion centers, designed to help aid workers and military share intelligence. Egan said the official exclaimed, "The road to hell is paved with fusion centers, we do not need any more fusion centers."
The Pentagon is already trying to tackle the UAS problem in Iraq head on by recently asking Congress for an additional $20 million to deal with the Islamic State group's drone threat.
Some of those enemy-owned drones carry improvised explosive devices (IED) while others are being used for reconnaissance, JIDA has said.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.