Defense bill would close anti-IED office

Defense bill would close anti-IED office
© Getty Images

A defense bill expected to be approved by the Senate Tuesday would eliminate the Pentagon office in charge of stopping roadside bombs that have been the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A little-noticed provision in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act would take away the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency’s (JIDA) independent status and subsume the office into an existing Pentagon agency — which critics say would essentially kill its work in coping with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

If a plan to transition the JIDA under an existing agency is not submitted nine months after the bill is passed, funds will be withheld, except for those directly supporting war activities.

The JIDA was set up in 2006 to coordinate the Pentagon’s fight against IEDs, from research and development to the acquisition of equipment to fielding that equipment in the battlefield.

While IEDs are no longer considered the threat they once were during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they are being employed daily against U.S.-backed forces fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Indeed, IEDs are still used against U.S. troops and personnel in Afghanistan, and risks remain for the roughly 3,500 U.S. service members in Iraq and several dozen troops in Syria.

Given that, critics have been left scratching their heads over the move to incorporate the agency.

“It makes no sense, it makes no sense at this moment,” wrote Daniel Gouré of the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research organization. “We’re going back into the same place, against some of the same people. It’s nuts.”

A U.S. military commander who recently returned from Iraq said ISIS’s use of vehicle-borne IEDs has “become more significant.” 

“Daesh uses that similarly to how we use strikes,” said Army Col. Curtis Buzzard, using an alternative name for ISIS.

“That’s kind of their version of a strike,” Buzzard, the commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, added of the terror groups use of IEDs during a Pentagon briefing last week.

The bill’s aim, according to its language, is to “create reduced overhead management costs while maintaining institutional core knowledge for counter defeat and detection capabilities for IEDs and other improvised threats.”

Money for JIDA’s activities would be transitioned to a “successor” fund, and its intelligence arm would also be transitioned to an existing military department or defense agency. 

The agency’s research, development and acquisition activities would also be moved to an existing military department or defense agency. It’s not clear whether these functions would all survive or go to the same department or agency. It’s also not clear what will happen to the agency’s 400 government and civilian staff. 

JIDA’s supporters argue that all of its parts work together as a network. The move risks breaking up the agency into parts that won’t be as effective.

“There’s no question it will kill it,” Gouré said. “Once you bury it in a larger organization, it immediately becomes a small part of something big, but different — not the same.”

The agency was built up for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation would seek to prevent the establishment of the agency on a permanent basis.

Funding has declined for JIDA. It once had $3.9 billion in annual funding, but the new bill would provide $432 million. The administration requested $492 million.