The Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) was founded in 2006, born out of the hastily assembled Army IED Task Force created in 2003 to confront the deadly improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that US forces were facing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week, the Pentagon said that JIEDDO will be renamed and be given a permanent home in the DoD, although for now it is still being funded out of the supplemental overseas contingency operation budget. US Army Lt. Gen. John Johnson, the head of the organization, which is changing to face its future, spoke to Defense News before the announcement.
Q. With the drawdowns in the US ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, how global is JIEDDO's footprint now?
A. We have a global footprint because, unfortunately, this idea of using improvised devices to attack security forces has caught on. So just about anywhere in the world that we were to deploy forces for training or operations, our forces are going to be at risk to IEDs. In the past 12 months, there have been over 20,000 IED events around the world that caused over 50,000 casualties. And it will iterate, adapt and change over time as security forces get better at protecting themselves.
Q. Are your people embedded with US global combatant commanders?
A. I have IED experts in every combatant command. When there are deployed forces we have experts with them, whether they are expert trainers or analysts to technically help them with their analysis or whatever information they are getting. We have technological integrators with firsthand knowledge of how the enemy is using IEDs, and how they are using technology, to try to get a jump on what we might see next.
Q. They're there on staff, piecing together information that comes in, and then can reach back to your HQ?
A. They are. Their purpose is to be the embedded expertise to share best practices, to be able to help their commands anticipate [threats]. In the connected world we are in, if we see a problem here, it is only a matter of time and we are going to see a problem there. And so these guys are able to forecast and help the other commands think about it before they have to experience it, sharing the latest information and techniques that have worked so that we are able to stay ahead of the things as best we can. This is all connected by a national hub of analytical capability and rapid capability development. So when the adaptation or the ability to adapt exceeds what any command can generate for itself, then my analysts reach back to DC, where we [can] reach out to the US government, the intelligence community, industry, academia and the private sector.
Q. A few years ago there was a push in JIEDDO to deal with the prevalence of ammonium nitrate bombs in Afghanistan that used fertilizer from two factories in Pakistan.
A. Often ammonium nitrate, or in the case of Pakistan, calcium ammonium nitrate, is one of the fundamental explosives for IEDs because it is so readily available. We have struck up a relationship with the International Fertilizer Association and other like groups to make sure their members are as informed as we can help them to be about how their materials are being used — not only what they are being used for, but how the bad guys are taking advantage of the supply, distribution systems and things like.
Q. Has the industry been responsive?
A. What has happened as a result of [JIEDDO's involvement] is they have a place on their website for best business practices for how to control inventory, how to improve oversight over distribution. The Fatima Co. is the conglomerate in Pakistan. It has done some pretty amazing things to get better control over its own product. They restricted distribution into the border regions of Afghanistan, and they scrubbed their own distribution list and found some number of ghost companies.
They have also done some work to try to develop a non-detonable or a less detonable product. And they have asked us to help make sure that they understand how their products can be used so they can best do the kinds of things they can do now.
We have been successful in cutting down the amount of calcium ammonium nitrate that is used in IEDs. Unfortunately, our enemies are clever people and resourceful, so they have turned to other means to try to make up for that. We have, to a certain extent, anticipated that and have been working to do everything we can to disrupt that.
Q. Are militants in Afghanistan and elsewhere using other commercial products that you have your eye on?
A. Potassium chlorate would be one. It is used in the match industry and in the making of textiles and things like that. Again, similar techniques.
But a big part of it is working with government and making sure that the government understands what kinds of oversight there ought to be. That is certainly not a role for JIEDDO, but as we work with the State Department, Commerce and others to make sure they understand the challenges, then they work with their counterparts, to help Pakistan and others to address the problem.
Pakistan has a pretty significant IED problem of its own, and we will continue to build relationships, to share best practices, whether it is governmental regulations, industry best practices, whether it is more in my lane, military schools, forensics and those kinds of things. The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are working on the kinds of skills that their internal security forces would find useful, etc.
Q. Has your command shifted its focus from trying to find the next technology to working with partners at the higher command or ministerial level?
A. Every time we come up with a solution, our enemies are watching and trying to come up with a countermeasure or to take the next step. So we have to spend quite a bit of energy working with others in the government and in industry at what technologies are on the horizon that could conceivably be a part of solving this problem, whether it is communications technology or a different type of a chemical technology that could be used as an explosive. So we work very closely with industry, other government agencies and other nations to try to keep track of those changes.
Q. The US places a premium on training and advising foreign forces. What is your role?
A. I think the more resilient our partners are, the better that security forces understand the nature of the problem, the better trained and equipped they are, the better their governments work together to be able to protect their borders [and] keep a close eye on these precursor components. Then I think the more comprehensively we globally can get after this problem. So the place that I would want to see more of an investment is in helping partners have capabilities so that we are not always the fire brigade going in there. That we are helping build resiliency in others so that we can husband our own capabilities for those places where we go with the level of skills and capabilities [we have].
Q. A big part of what JIEDDO did at the beginning and may have changed a bit since is working with industry to come up with counter-IED solutions and new leap-ahead technologies.
A. After 9/11, there was no argument or misunderstanding in academia, in industry, certainly in the military and other government agencies that we had to get after this problem. That brought like-minded people with relevant capabilities together to come up with solutions. But it was nice to have the money to invest in the development of capabilities not only for the immediate problem, but for the future. That still exists. There was a certain amount of money that was for things that we need right now, today, on the ground. We are still investing in that. We have some capability to accelerate technologies that we anticipate we are going to need. We may not field that immediately, but we want to make sure it is available and ready. But more than that, the result of 10 years of doing this is the experience and know-how we have of how these things are being used around the world. And therefore, we can help industry understand the nature of it and in some cases stimulate the industry's own investment as they try to anticipate what is going to be needed in the future.
Q. Where is JIEDDO going in the next couple of years?
A. What is very important is that we have enough awareness about what is going on around the world to see the changes in the threat networks that use IEDs, whether it is a new threat network or changes in relationships within those networks. And to watch for changes in technology. That is a full-time job. But it is what puts us in a position to anticipate and be that much better prepared, but if not, certainly to respond very quickly so our forces or those that we are supporting can secure themselves and accomplish their mission at the least cost.
Q. This year the JIEDDO budget will remain in the supplemental OCO budget, and is $500 million. What are your priorities this year for the short term over the longer-term budgetary horizon?
A. Well, the priorities are support to our forces in Iraq and those forces supporting the commands in Afghanistan. And then, those emerging hot spots or areas that we are concerned about becoming hot spots, like Africa. A lot of the success being achieved by other countries out there has to do with a better understanding of the threat and of how you get a whole-of-government approach to combating that threat. So we are investing in helping commands like Africa, SOUTHCOM and EUCOM work with their partners to be better prepared because they eventually all will have this problem.
By Paul McLeary in Washington.