Commandos Versus Roadside Bombs
The Pentagon is worried its elite forces aren’t ready to spot Afghanistan IEDs
After more than a decade of fighting in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is worried that American commandos might not be able to spot and avoid roadside bombs. The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization—or JIEDDO—outlined these concerns in contract documents released on June 24.
JIEDDO is looking to pay private contractor Orbis Operations more than $600,000 to teach special operators how to spot and identify IEDs. Orbis will be on the hook for nine of these “situation awareness training” sessions between July and August.
The reasons for the training program were detailed in a so-called “Justification and Approval” document. The Pentagon needs a J&A any time it wants to give a contract to one company without a having to take any other offers.
This training will fill a “critical and life-threatening … gap,” according to JIEDDO. Until earlier this year, elite forces could largely rely on regular Army engineers and bomb squads to clear the homemade munitions.
The ground combat branch’s specialized equipment and highly trained bomb technicians have been in great demand over the last decade. But Washington is drawing down in Afghanistan and pulling out many of those vital troops.
Conversely, commandos working to train local forces will probably be among the last to leave. The Pentagon says these Special Operations Forces lack the training and gear to best protect themselves against IEDs—“the number one killer on the battlefield.”
Elite troops “received minimal route clearance, detection and removal … specialized [counter-IED training], if any,” the Pentagon’s improvised munitions experts say. The situational awareness training was apparently “not considered critical for SOF units and [was] not part of their predeployment training” before they headed out to Central Asia.
If true, one could only wonder why the Pentagon did not fix this glaring omission years ago. However, these dire claims could be more for the benefit of Pentagon budgeteers than anyone else.
For one, JIEDDO admits that commandos have already cleared hundreds of IEDs across Afghanistan in recent weeks as the spring fighting season heats up. These forces are managing without the additional courses.
In addition, special operators might not have all the unique Army engineering tools, but they’re hardly unprepared. U.S. Special Operations Command has bought the blast-deflecting trucks seen in the picture above, radio jammers and other life-saving equipment for its forces in Afghanistan.
Many of the Pentagon’s elite troops also receive specialized training in the art of blowing things up. The commandos would no doubt have a leg up from regular soldiers in identifying bombs and disabling them to begin with.
Still, roadside bombs remain a serious threat to American troops regardless of whether JIEDDO’s arguments are legitimate. Washington is unlikely to let commandos take on an “unacceptable risk to sustain loss of life and serious injuries” from IEDs.