News broke this week that under a plan released by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the United States Army will be reduced to its smallest force since before World War II. Though not directly related to that plan, another announcement this week by the Defense Department gives a foretaste of what those cuts may look like. Plans are underway for massive cuts to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), the organization that has led military's efforts to combat the weapon of choice among insurgents and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. JIEDDO's current staff of 3,000 will be reduced to 1,000 by the end of this fiscal year, and further plans could see the number fall as low as 400 down the road.Army Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, the director of JIEDDO, said guidance from then-Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called on him to "scale JIEDDO down" and draw up plans for what "an 'enduring' JIEDDO might look like in the future." The Army News Service reports:
"There is a full appreciation that JIEDDO functions should endure. The key is that it be scaled to what the nation can afford," Johnson said. "And we have to be smart as to how we structure it so it can be rapidly expanded as necessary based on the nature of the threat and the challenges we are going to face in the future."...
Johnson said he will spell out to the deputy secretary what could be done with 400 personnel, and what risks are associated with it.
"There are certain parts of an organization like this that if you reduce it beyond a point, it could take six months, a year, even longer to re-establish it," he said. "And in that time period, our soldiers and Marines in the field are suffering from the effects of IEDs, and it ends up costing us more to try to fix the problem without necessarily having the sophistication of understanding the entire system of systems."Lt. Gen. Johnson was positive about the coming changes, but expressed some concerns as well.
Some parts of JIEDDO can't be easily scaled. One of the areas he's looking to protect, Johnson said, is the intelligence integration functions of JIEDDO.
"My concern is, right now, we have a fairly persistent look at the organizations that most commonly use IEDs," he said. "If we were to take our eyes off, what are the chances that there would be an adaptation or permutation in the way they use IEDs that we didn't anticipate, and how long for us to catch up?"JIEDDO has worked with other countries, such as Pakistan and Colombia, to help then deal with their own threats from IEDs, and was even involved in discussions after the Boston Marathon bombing to see what lessons could be learned from that domestic attack.
News of the reductions first surfaced in October 2013. At the time, Johnson was also positive about adjusting the size and scope of the organization, but was adamant about its continuing mission:
The future is important because the IED fight is far from over, he said.
“In the last 12 months, there were more than 14,000 IED-related events outside of Afghanistan causing more than 32,000 casualties,” he said. “These weapons have been used by threat networks and criminal entities around the world and even here at home as we saw recently in the Boston Marathon bombings.”
“The inevitable next fight is somewhere in our future,” he said. “We must be able to rapidly posture for that fight. We must continue to lean forward and stay abreast of how our enemies are using IEDs and what new tactics and technologies they are employing. This will allow us to develop the capabilities to defeat the IED, the tactics to attack enemy networks and train our forces so they are prepared for the IED environments we will face in the future.”
Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.