2:00 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Hello and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have Lieutenant General Oates who will deliver a counter-IED update briefing. Without further ado, here is the general.
LTG OATES: Well, everybody, I appreciate you coming today. I thought what I might do is just take a few minutes to introduce myself and a little bit about my background and then very briefly hit a couple of topics, I think, that you might be interested in, but leave the majority of the time for your questions so that we can get all of those answered and resolved. I left you a couple of pieces of paper which I won’t reference during the session today. They’re just for your use. If they generate some questions or a follow-up, that’s why we’re here. So that you can please contact us by email or ask us a question and we’ll try to get an answer back to you if we can’t answer it here.
I’m a United States Army officer. I’ve been the director of JIEDDO for just under a year. I took over in January of this year. My previous assignments have taken me to Iraq four times on combat tours; three in the most recent conflict. And my most recent assignment there was commanding Multi-National Division South, southern Iraq for a year as a commander of the 10th Mountain Division. So as a point of reference, my expertise with the Improvised Explosive Device has been from a tactical perspective. So I have had many of my soldiers injured or killed and a lot of property blown up with the IED and I’ve had an opportunity to experience it personally in Northern Iraq and in Baghdad and in Southern Iraq.
I have visited Afghanistan a number of times, although I’ve never spent a complete combat tour in Afghanistan. I’ve had soldiers under my command assigned there and I have visited twice as the director of JIEDDO.
So what I’d like to do is just cover lightly a couple of topic areas and see if they elicit any thoughts from you back in questions and then leave the balance of the time for your questions.
The first is with regards to Iraq, the state of conditions in Iraq with regards to the Improvised Explosive Device are that we see considerably fewer attacks than any of the previous years. To give you an order of magnitude difference, at the height of the war it was not uncommon to have 4,000 IED incidents in one month. And now we see in the order of magnitude a couple of hundred. Most of those are generated against the Iraqi security forces and against civilians. Very few against the United States forces, which, as you know, are down to 50,000 combat troops.
I think the success in Iraq – that is the total number of IEDs declining and their relative effectiveness against the forces gives us a pretty good snapshot of how we might achieve the same in Afghanistan. And I assess the key reasons why the IED has become less of a threat in Iraq is principally because the Iraqi security forces are better trained and better equipped than they were previously; that there has been a degree of political reconciliation within the country, although they’re still struggling with those issues; that there was sufficient combat force present from the coalition and it was enabled with a very significant counter-IED capability; and finally, that a number of the irreconcilable forces, the terrorist organizations that fueled and facilitated the IED, a great number of them have been killed or captured.
In Afghanistan, the reverse situation has occurred in the last couple of years where Afghanistan had very few IED incidents in the early years, the first seven. In the last year and a half, we have seen the IED volume increase significantly. But it is in context nowhere near the volume we saw in Iraq. For instance, at the height of the Iraq wars, I said 4,000 a month. In Afghanistan, the high point is around 1,300, 1,400 IED events a month. So although it’s many more in Afghanistan than there were previously, in context with Iraq not on the same scale.
The IEDs in Afghanistan are significantly different than they were in Iraq. The IED in Iraq was principally a military-grade munition because there were a significant amount of military munitions available in Saddam’s regime. And in many cases they were facilitated with sophisticated detonation systems. We know that the Qods Force out of Iran frequently provided very sophisticated telemetry and other remote control capability in Baghdad and Southern Iraq in particular.
In Afghanistan, what we see are homemade explosives, explosives that are made largely from fertilizer-based bombs – ammonium nitrate and potassium chlorate. And the detonation systems are fairly rudimentary. They are principally pressure plate devices, or what we call "victim operated." So the enemy puts a fertilizer-based explosive device in the ground and sets a pressure plate and whoever drives over it or steps on it is killed by it. So you see a significant number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan due to these type of munitions and you’ve seen a significant increase in their use against coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Over the last 90 days, the United States has completed its uplift – sometimes called "the surge" – of forces into Afghanistan. And along with our other coalition partners, we have seen the Taliban conduct their own surge, if you will. And so there’s been significant combat and a rise in IEDs and direct fire over the last 90-120 days. With regards to the IED, we’ve seen really no significant change in the type of explosives being used. It’s still principally homemade explosive and – but we are vigilant to see whether there is to be a change to that.
We do believe that the enemy – the Taliban is facilitated by some sanctuary in Pakistan, and to some degree minor assistance from Iran, although I don’t want to make more than that than it is. It’s minor assistance, largely in the financing, to some extent a little bit of training, but nowhere near the level of support that we saw previously in Iraq.
I would like to transition away from the theater war and talk about two other aspects of the IED that most people don’t think about. The first is that the Improvised Explosive Device is being used throughout the world to impact stable governments. We track about three to four hundred incidents a month occurring outside of Iraq and Afghanistan where people are using Improvised Explosive Devices against law enforcement or against military security forces.
Many of you are well aware that Mexico in the last 90 days has experienced at least three vehicle-borne explosive devices against their security forces, which look very similar to the model that we saw in Iraq and continue to see. And across the globe, these are very easy-to-use devices. They’re easily concealable. They’re inexpensive. And they are terribly devastating, in some cases, against the civilian population.
The second piece I’d like to highlight is that there’s been a significant amount of effort recently on behalf of the United States to provide additional training to our NATO allies before they are introduced into combat in Afghanistan. The Secretary of Defense made comments at the conference in Istanbul and he also most recently made comments from the Lisbon conference reaffirming our commitment to ensure that when the coalition forces arrive, our NATO allies arrive in Afghanistan, that they have light capability, and then before they depart the European continent that they’re provided with as much training and capability as we can provide. We’re not where we want to be yet with that, but we’re making great strides in improving individual NATO soldiers’ ability. And the NATO Military Council has in particular most recently codified their own direction to their forces about essential training tasks and how they’re going to go about assisting their soldiers.
So at this point, what I’d like to do is stop there and see what particular questions or interests you have, and then we can bore as deep as you’d like to go.
MODERATOR: As we move to the Q&A portion, please state your name and publication before you ask a question. Please try and limit yourself to one question until we go around the table once, and please speak into the microphones, which are – you don’t need to lean over and shout into them, but just be mindful of where they are.
Without further ado, here we go. Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Mina al-Oraibi, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. I’d like to ask you a little more detail about Iraq and the reduction and the number of IED attacks. You’re saying there’s a combination of factors with the general security situation is improving. But can I ask you specifically what have you done to counter IED attacks as such? Are there specific programs that you’ve done or military aspects to combat them?
LTG OATES: Sure. There again, to give you the scope of the difference, at the height of the major combat in Iraq, the IEDs were about 4,000 a month. I can’t recall it getting higher than that, but that was about the highest it got. Largely military grade munitions and suicide vehicles and vests. Now we’re down in the hundreds, which is still a lot but significantly more peaceful than it was years ago.
The most important thing that’s been done in Iraq to improve the security situation, in my opinion, is the degree of political reconciliation that has taken place in the last 18 months to two years. As I indicated, I don’t think it’s where it needs to be, and I’m sure that the Iraqi people believe that they have a ways yet to go. But removing a significant sense of motivation for implanting IEDs is a major component in my opinion.
The second is the training and expertise and courage of the Iraqi security forces. Both the army and the police have made a significant difference in mitigating the IED threat in Iraq. Those two I would highlight as the major reasons why we’ve seen a reduction.
I will tell you that my own sensing is that some of the significant lethal munitions support that we saw come out of Iran seems to have mitigated as well. I don’t know why, but we don’t see as much lethal support out of Iran as we saw in previous years. That’s a good thing.
QUESTION: Mike Evans from the Times, London Times. What sort of advances in technology have you been deploying to spot the IEDs? Am I right in saying something which is ringing in my head, but I can’t think of whether it’s true or not. There was some particular airborne system which was going to be deployed which actually was stopped eventually or wasn’t deployed that would help you in countering IEDs?
LTG OATES: Okay, so the – let me start first by framing the problem we have in Afghanistan a little deeper. We are essentially attempting to find a fertilizer-based bomb, so it has very low or no metallic content, and it is buried in an unimproved road, it’s buried in the dirt. That is the majority of the problem set that all of our forces face in Afghanistan..
The detection of those devices requires a very sophisticated combination of factors, so some of the things that we’ve looked for. Detecting the residue from the homemade explosive is achievable. We’ve had some success there. That is while they’re preparing the homemade explosive, we have some ability to detect that.
And clearly, what we’re attempting to do is find this material before it’s placed in the ground as a bomb. Once it goes in the road as a bomb, the detection challenge becomes tougher. Dogs are very successful at locating most forms of explosives, and so we have increased the number of explosive detection dogs in theater. There is an ability to detect a change in the surface of the earth when somebody digs in the ground and puts something in there. Airborne platforms are of some utility in detecting whether or not the earth has been disturbed. And that may give us a clue as to whether or not an IED has been in place there.
Same if you use a command wire to detonate this asset. That provides a signature that may be detected from the air. But I don’t want to oversell this capability, ladies and gentlemen. This is a very difficult bomb to detect using technology. We find that well-trained soldiers armed with dogs tend to be the most effective in finding IEDs, but they are facilitated with other forms of technology. I’ve made this statement before, and people took it a little out of context, that all you need is a couple of dogs and guys to go find these IEDs. It’s a simplistic version of a very complex problem. The airborne platforms allow you to understand what is going on within the enemy network, and that’s helpful to understanding where to go look for the bomb. And our other intelligence capabilities allow us to do the same.
Unless you employ all of these capabilities, very, very difficult to find these explosives. There are a number of new technologies we’ve put into theater – you asked about those. Persistent surveillance. We have very sophisticated cameras mounted onto airborne blimps, if you will, and on towers that allow us to see the roads constantly, day and night, through most weather conditions. And that has helped us recently. We’ve put almost 50 of these systems into theater and we have more coming, and that has helped us in what we call the persistent surveillance capability against the roads where the majority of the threat lies.
We have some ground-penetrating radar. Ground-penetrating radar has provided the ability to see things that are buried beneath the surface. We still have some more work to go on that technology, but it is providing some useful help there. And the latest is that we are exploring the use of different types of radars to begin to understand what may be buried in the dirt. All of these things are either currently in theater or moving there as soon as we can get them there.
Sir, to answer your question.
QUESTION: Was I – (inaudible) – was I right in saying that there was something which was actually stopped and you were going to use and then for some reason –
LTG OATES: I’m not aware of anything that we were going to use and stopped. There are some technologies that we’ve put into theater recently that I won’t go into significant detail about, only because they’re providing us a good response and we’d rather the enemy not be tipped off to that capability.
QUESTION: Iraq versus Afghanistan, in relation to the casualties from IEDs built to operations by Taliban, now in the theater in Afghanistan, what is the ratio of casualties from both compared to what was happening in the Iraqi theater? (Inaudible) add something about the cost of the program since, I think, 2006, if you could give us some idea about what has been spent on IEDs, fighting IED, and what’s the current situation, current budget for such a program?
LTG OATES: Okay. Let me start with the casualty piece and see if I can answer that adequately for you. In Iraq, the casualties are significantly higher than we’ve had in Afghanistan. As you know, Afghanistan total casualties are about one-tenth total casualties in Iraq. Majority of casualties in Afghanistan are due to improvised explosive devices.
But what we have seen recently is a slight increase in the number of soldiers who were killed or wounded due to direct fire – that is, rifles and machine gun fire and grenades. It’s not a terribly significant change. Most of the casualties are still a result of the IEDs. In Iraq, you saw a fairly good mix, but still the majority were killed or wounded due to improvised explosive devices, but a significant number also injured in direct fire. I don’t know precisely what the percentage difference would be. I’d have to go look that up for you.
With regards to the budget, it’s hard to categorize what it costs in the counter-IED fight because the money is spread across all of the formations. For instance, we spend money to train soldiers. If you’re asking just about my organization, I can give you some pretty good figures there. Is that what you’re interested in?
QUESTION: No. I mean, I heard the program – by the way, for the record, my name is Mounzer Sleiman, Think Tank Monitor. I forgot to introduce myself.
LTG OATES: That’s okay.
QUESTION: There is a total budget. We heard that they are spending – at least 2006, 2007 – about three to four billion dollars on – in connection with a previous question –
LTG OATES: Right.
QUESTION: – like tactical means or other means. So is that the same level continue to fund such program or – and also about your organization, too.
LTG OATES: Yeah. The total – I couldn’t give you a total figure number across all of the armed forces, what we’re spending on the counter-IED fight. But I can tell you that each of the services spends a significant amount of money training and equipping their own forces. And my organization, which is exclusively focused on the IED, is funded in the two to three billion dollar range, from 2006 forward, and the – our money is exclusively focused on helping train soldiers for the counter-IED fight for understanding and developing techniques to attack the networks that use IEDs. And the third is to look after technologies that we can rapidly provide as capability to the soldiers to help them in this fight.
So whether it’s a ground-penetrating radar or looking at how the Haqqani Network is behaving or training soldiers to understand the differences in their environment, those three pieces – training, attacking the network, and developing a capability to conduct counter-IED operations. We’re well-funded by the United States Congress in my organization. And I have flexible funding. Unlike most organizations, this is – allows me to rapidly respond to an emerging requirement in theater.
So to the gentleman’s question down there, what have we added recently, when General McChrystal asked for these persistent ground surveillance systems, we were able to start shipping the very first ones out there within about 40 days, which is unheard of in terms of speed, getting capability back to the war fighter.
QUESTION: We heard about certain capability that applied to the security of presidents, say, the President of United States and others that they are – they have detecting high technology, detecting advice for any, like, let’s say car, explosive, or other things. Is that available to the soldiers in Afghanistan and – or it can be available, or how effective is it?
LTG OATES: One of the most significant capabilities that was provided to our soldiers in Iraq was the ability to mitigate remote control detonation of explosives. This is a technique we don’t see very much of in Afghanistan, but in Iraq, it was prevalent where people would place an improved explosive device and then remotely detonate it using cell phones or UHF, VHF, push-to-talk Motorola radio, everything you can imagine. And we developed an electronic capability to jam that, and that is very effective. It is provided to our soldiers in Afghanistan, although they don’t see much of that attack in Afghanistan.
So the short answer is yes, we understand those capabilities and yes, they have been provided to our soldiers. And whether it’s the Taliban or whether it’s al-Qaida or any other organization that seeks to use these devices, they also seek new and innovative ways. As you just saw recently, the design of a printer toner cartridge was designed as an improved explosive device and put aboard commercial aircraft, cargo aircraft. And so the enemy is very creative in the way he designs these explosive devices and how they’re to be detonated. And so trying to stay ahead of that is one of our major challenges.
QUESTION: Ingeborg Eliassen, Stavanger Aftenblad Norway. I wonder, how – since you name Iraq and Afghanistan and given the differences between the countries, how relevant do you think the Iraqi experience is overall – at all in assessing what needs to be done in Afghanistan? And given the lack of reconciliation process in Afghanistan, what does that make you think will happen to the IED statistics in the country?
LTG OATES: Those are two good questions. A great deal of what we learned about the IED in Iraq is helpful in Afghanistan. We did see homemade explosives in Afghanistan – I mean, in Iraq, although they were not the predominate use. We do understand how they’re used and we understand how they’re detonated, so a great deal of what we learned to include the use of very protective vehicles, the use of dogs, these other detection systems I identified are transferable to Afghanistan. It’s just different, and so you have to train soldiers specifically for the threat that they see in Afghanistan.
With regards to political reconciliation, it’s my own personal opinion that the political reconciliation in Iraq was a major factor in reducing the IED threat. I do believe that’s possible in Afghanistan, although we are nowhere near where we need to be in that regards.
In and of itself, political reconciliation is not enough to completely eliminate the IED. You have to do a number of other tasks, which I’ve already mentioned. But I do think that if we can achieve security locally and deny the Taliban coercive control of some of these areas that we’ll see a reduction in the IEDs. And quite frankly, that’s what’s behind the uplift of the surge in Afghanistan is to provide enough combat power to help train the Afghan security force and to fully implement an effective counterinsurgency strategy. Absent that, I don’t believe we’d see a reduction in IEDs.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about other countries that are experiencing IED threats now. I wanted to get your sense of what do you think is driving that then also if other countries have come to you into JIEDDO asking for advice and what sort of advice are they seeking?
LTG OATES: Sure. As I mentioned before, three to four hundred IED events that we track every month outside Iraq and Afghanistan – the IED is used for a range of purposes. Some of them are very simple. Criminals will use an IED because they seek to maintain control of whatever enterprise they’re involved in. So this is what you’ll see in Mexico where the drug cartel is using an IED to attack the security forces, kill policemen so that they can maintain the transit of their drugs into the United States and other places.
Then you see ideological enemies, the FARC in Colombia seeking the destruction of the Colombian Government uses IEDs to attack their soldiers, to kill their judges and so on. And so it’s the full range. Why do they use the IED? It works. It’s easy to obtain – the precursor material you need for a homemade explosive. It’s harder to obtain military-grade munitions in most countries that have control of them. But if you’re in a country where they do not have tight control of military-grade munitions, then that material may be available on the black market, and we see that in a number of countries.
We have had discussions with other countries, but we do that through the U.S. combatant command. So for instance, when the minister of defense for Peru asked for some help, he did that through the United States Southern Command. They’re our primary customers, and then we engaged with U.S. Southern Command on how we might be helpful to Peru.
Did that answer your question?
QUESTION: What sorts of – what did Peru ask (inaudible)?
LTG OATES: First of all, they’re beginning to experience an increase in the use of this weapon because they’re seeing a resurgence in the Sendero Luminoso. In Sendero, which we thought was dead years ago, is back in business – as you know, an ideological and Maoist-based insurgency. And it is affiliating itself now with criminal enterprise involved in the drug cartel. So just as we saw the FARC line up with the drug cartels in Colombia, they have common cause, and the Peruvian Government is interested in how we might use some of our experience with IEDs to help them, principally with vehicle-borne bombs and those that are in place to kill their policemen. So we are seeing what we can do about that.
Yes. Yes, sir. Please.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Mathieu Rabechault, for Agence France Presse. Do you – and how do you try to prevent how many ammonium nitrate and potassium chloride enter Afghanistan?
LTG OATES: That’s a really good question for a number of reasons. And I hadn’t mentioned before, when you look at precursor materials, you really need a whole of government. It’s just not a military problem. You need the whole of government to work on the IED, whether it’s in Iraq or Afghanistan or the rest of the world. So this is a great example. Pakistan and Afghanistan are cooperating on trying to reduce the flow of ammonium nitrate fertilizer into Afghanistan.
For those of you who don’t know, there is no ammonium nitrate produced in Afghanistan. It all comes in across the border. It has a legitimate purpose as a fertilizer in Pakistan, but we don’t want it into Afghanistan. So President Karzai has declared it illegal to import ammonium nitrate fertilizer. And the Pakistan Government has worked very hard with the producers to limit the export, whether it’s legal or illegal into Afghanistan. We believe that’s going to have an impact. I can’t tell you right now that it is having the impact that we completely would expect to see, but maybe over time.
As we look at trying to reduce sophisticated detonation systems, our Commerce Department, our Treasury Department, works with governments all over the world to limit the financing of terrorist networks. It works within the commercial industries to make sure that devices that can be used for good purposes are not modified to be used for destruction. But as you can imagine, almost everything that we have electronically can be used for something good, can also be used as a detonator.
The example of this computer toner – all of you have seen the material on this computer toner bomb that was constructed. If you were to pull that out of the printer you’d never know that it was a designed bomb. This was done very, very well by somebody who really knew what they were doing. And it was just through the vigilance of some security personnel that they were able to detect that device. So getting all of the government involved in this process is very, very important to the solution.
QUESTION: Iftikhar Hussain, Voice of America Pashtu (inaudible) region in Afghanistan, Pakistan. I just wonder how much the tactics have changed in Afghanistan of the IEDS. And were they initially like started with the fertilizer, or there was something else and then they had switched to this?
LTG OATES: Until about two years ago, there were not many IEDs in Afghanistan, very few. In the last two years, the number has reason significantly and the tactic has not changed significantly. It is principally ammonium nitrate based fertilizer. Haqqani, who operates in the east, prefers to use potassium chlorate, but he’ll use ammonium nitrate as well. And we do see a difference in targeting. For instance, Haqqani will attack both Afghan security forces, civilians, and coalition forces equally. We believe his network seeks to control a criminal enterprise in eastern Afghanistan.
The Taliban, principally in the south and the north, will try and limit their attacks against either Afghan security force and coalition forces and try to minimize civilian casualties. But to date, they’ve been unsuccessful, because these victim-operated bombs – if you put a pressure plate, whoever steps on it is going to be killed. And so, although we know they’ve tried to limit the civilian casualties, it has still resulted in a number of civilian casualties. And that tactic I’m describing for you has not changed appreciably in the last two years. We’ve not seen a significant increase in the use of military munitions, for instance, and we have not seen a significant change in the use of sophisticated detonation, remote control or electronics, just a little bit. But they’ve stayed on the same attack regime now for almost two years.
QUESTION: And why do you think that is, for the military grade and for the sophisticated – what’s keeping them from doing that?
LTG OATES: Military-grade munitions are harder to come by in Afghanistan. Most of the Soviet material that was left over is unstable, and there is an abundance of fertilizer available for use as homemade explosive. It’s easier, and it works. So there’s no particular reason to change that model. When you start using sophisticated detonation systems, it requires a degree of education and training that may not be readily available. The literacy rate in Afghanistan is significantly less than it is in Iraq. Trying to explain to somebody how to use some very sophisticated circuitry just makes it more difficult to them. So I think they use it because it’s available, it’s cheap, and it works, the simplest reasons of all.
QUESTION: They obviously have learned the lesson that old artillery shells and (inaudible) and who knows what. Now you’re saying that it’s pretty well non-metallic, so they’ve learned a lesson that it’s better to use plastic of some sort. Have they, in any sense, found anything more sophisticated than that – just plastic, (inaudible) cans or whatever?
LTG OATES: No, it’s – as hard as it is to believe, it’s a very, very simple attack, and it’s effective. Putting a homemade explosive into a plastic jug with a small charge to detonate it is about as simple as you can get, and it’s very effective. And you know there’s fewer paved roads in Afghanistan, so digging them in the dirt is not particularly difficult. And you know from the topography that if you’re in the east and north you may have a mountain range that goes up 4,000 feet on your left and drops 3,000 feet on your right. So it’s – their enemy is able to channelize you, if you will, on this road. And if you go down south, it’s very likely that you’re on an unimproved road and you’ve got a swamp or mangrove area – not mangrove, but very thick vegetation on either side, and the enemy can channelize you.
There is some good news, ladies and gentlemen, that you probably don’t hear a lot about. But the first thing I’d tell you is along Route 1, 90 to 120 days ago it was very difficult to drive on Route 1 in Afghanistan without striking an IED. These days, there is a significant amount of civilian traffic and military traffic moving on Route 1, and that’s enormously helpful to the people that are trying to move their products to market or just get around the country. And the reason why is the IEDs have been reduced significantly on Route 1 due to some very, very concentrated effort against the Taliban in the south. We assess a great number of the Taliban senior leadership has been killed, captured, or driven out of the area. Those that have left voluntarily are likely to return, but while they’re in hiding the volume of IEDs along these roads has dropped, and that allows the civilian traffic to transit more freely.
We still see a lot of IEDs on the unimproved roads off of the main roads. That presents our biggest challenge, as we try to get a coalition force into the populations to help them and secure their area. But there is no doubt that there’s been significant improvement in the ground mobility in Afghanistan over the last 90 days.
QUESTION: Is Route 1 paved?
LTG OATES: It is. And it’s the major route to get – have the population get things around.
MODERATOR: If we could break away and take a question from New York, please go ahead New York.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’m Yoshihisa Kobayashi from Kyodo News, Japan. Sir, are you aware of any international efforts by the United Nations, for instance, in order to regulate export and import of fertilizer, which has become the material for IEDs?
LTG OATES: Sir, I’m not aware of any action the UN has taken to regulate fertilizer. I do know that within a number of countries around Iraq and Afghanistan, in Afghanistan in particular, there’s been significant discussion bilaterally with the United States and other countries to regulate – at least identify the flow of this fertilizer. I’m not aware of the UN taking any direct effort in that regard.
QUESTION: Thank you, General. Nicolas Pandi from Jiji Press. Going back a little bit to the comments you’re making about roads in Afghanistan, there was an article written by Major Michael Waltz (ph). I don’t know if you’re familiar with him. He was – he commanded a special forces unit in southeastern Afghanistan. He wrote an article that appeared in Foreign Policy Magazine a couple of weeks ago. And in it, he discusses the ever increasing use of heavily armored vehicles, like the MRAP and MATVs, and I think they’re bringing in the M1A1 –most recently they announced that.
And he was saying that this is actually having a detrimental effect on counterinsurgency operations, because what it does is – and you’ve kind of alluded to this briefly – that these heavier vehicles can’t traverse a lot of the roads in Afghanistan. They’re kind of more meant for flat paved roads that we had more commonly in Iraq. And so he was saying even though it may seem counterintuitive, we should be going more towards the less armor, which would improve our flexibility. And I don’t know, did you have any comment on that? I don’t know.
LTG OATES: I absolutely do. We saw the exact same thing in Iraq. The best thing you can do is give a unit commander a full range of capability, because one of the things you discover about this war is it’s very local. So if you talk to an individual from one part of the country, he sees the war differently than somebody who’s somewhere else.
So for instance, if you’re on an unimproved road, you’re going to want to ride in an MRAP because the chances you’re going to survive an explosion are much greater than if you’re in a Humvee. Now, if you’re driving on a paved road and it’s been swept, sure. And this is the condition we see in route one right now where you have the vast majority of civilian traffic is driving on route one relatively free of IED attack. But once you get off the road, there are places where the larger vehicles won’t go. That’s why the MATV was created for Afghanistan in particular.
What you see in southern Afghanistan in particular is a lot of dismounted operations. Soldiers get out and walking about and engaging the local population. Here’s the challenge, and it’s always a balance for a commander. If you have an IED detonate and you’re in a vehicle, the odds are you will survive. If you are dismounted, the odds are you’re going to be injured or killed. So while it improves your ability to engage the population and you absolutely have to do that, you place your soldiers at greater risk. So you put dogs with them and you move a little slower and you use some other detection capability. But let’s not mistake the point; there is a greater risk. This is what soldiers do every day, and it’s up to the commanders to try and determine what level of protection the soldier requires.
So if you’ve been operating in an area for a while and you’ve got a pretty good feel for the population, the commander might decide he doesn’t need any heavy-armored vehicles and he can move about freely. If you’re going into an area for the first time, you’re going to err on the side of overprotecting your soldiers. To his specific – I haven’t read his article, but his specific point, we learned this in Iraq: You can’t do counterinsurgency and you can’t develop a relationship with the population driving by looking out of a heavily-armored vehicle, so we do a lot of dismounted operations. You just have to balance that risk with the protection of your soldiers. That’s a very good point, and it’s another reason why we have put a significant amount of effort into ensuring that all of our NATO allies are equally protected. These are not inexpensive vehicles, the MRAP, and to purchase them and use them is very difficult for countries who don’t have a budget as resourced as well as ours. So this was a major effort by Secretary Gates to ensure that when our NATO allies arrived in theater, they had similar protection.
MODERATOR: We have time for one or two more questions. Please go ahead.
LTG OATES: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I wanted to ask about (inaudible). And is that sort of in lieu of (inaudible) that were used in Iraq? And if so, why is there a shift from one to the other? Is that a cost-cut relation or is that – does that have to do with the (inaudible)?
LTG OATES: No, persistent surveillance is a function. How you do that, what capabilities you use, run the range of a lot of different options. There are more UAV in Afghanistan now than there ever was in Iraq. So we have a significant volume of unmanned aerial vehicle and some sensors on them that we never had in Iraq, because we’ve continued to develop these.
Now, what was new in Afghanistan this year was the introduction of what we call Persistent Ground Surveillance, PGS, and PTDS, Persistent Threat Detection. These describe just two capabilities. They’re a blimp that can go up to about 3,000 feet and has a very sophisticated, long-range camera that can look day and night. And then the other system is based on a tower it does the exact same thing. But that’s only two capabilities of the entire Persistent Surveillance mission. The unmanned aerial vehicle constitutes another piece. The manned aircraft that fly is another piece. Dismounted soldiers and hide positions conducting reconnaissance and surveillance. So there are a range of options.
And we’ve got some new, sophisticated optics that we’ve put on our vehicles in Afghanistan that we did not have in Iraq. So it runs the range. What’s new in Afghanistan is we had to surge a lot of this capability this year into the theater, and it is making a difference right now.
Did I answer your question fully, or is there more to that?
LTG OATES: Money hasn’t been an object, I can assure you of that.
QUESTION: But when you went with the blimp and the tower system, I mean, that’s been a real increase?
LTG OATES: Yeah. They had none in Afghanistan. It went from zero to about 50 systems now, moving to 64 and probably more.
QUESTION: And is that the new – a better capability or a new (inaudible)?
LTG OATES: Absolutely. Here’s the effect that this surveillance camera has. Number one, the enemy can see it, and that moderates his behavior right up front, just as it does all of us. If we all know that we’re being viewed, we’re going to act differently. For those who don’t moderate their behavior and we can see what they’re doing, we can apprehend them or kill them as they emplace an IED. So it allows us to see at a range where we’ve not been able to see before. These were used extensively in Iraq. We’ve got better ones now in Afghanistan. So they’re paying significant difference in force protection.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask you?
LTG OATES: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Going from zero to 50, what time span was that?
LTG OATES: In the last 120 days.
MODERATOR: We’ve got time for one quick question. Is there anyone who hasn’t asked a question who wants one?
LTG OATES: He had another one.
MODERATOR: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: This is my second one.
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
LTG OATES: That’s okay. Please.
QUESTION: Yeah. Ingeborg Eliassen, Stavanger Aftenblad of Norway. I would like to hear more about how dangerous these IEDs are to humans. I’ve been reading about what they now call traumatic brain injury –
LTG OATES: Right.
QUESTION: – and understand that this is something that (inaudible) who have been near a blast but who (inaudible) injured are diagnosed with and that kind of looks like PTSD. And I wonder what is your take on this. What is your perspective on this that actually many more people than the people who are injured there (inaudible) are.
LTG OATES: Has anybody ever come up behind you with a paper bag and popped it real loud, or an explosion right behind you that you didn’t see happening, and how did you feel about that? Did you get real tense right away? That reflex exists with almost every soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan because you can’t anticipate in many cases these explosions occurring. Even though they don’t injure you, the reflex action tends to wear on your nerves just a little bit. Clearly, people trying to kill you wears on your nerves significantly.
These explosives, when they detonate, most of our soldiers are not injured. The majority are not injured because they’re in protective vehicles. This is important for us to understand that of 100 bombs that will detonate, about 15 are going to injure or kill our soldiers. About 85 of the 100 statistically are not going to hurt us because we’ve got good protective equipment or because the enemy misapplied it or something happened. But 15 of 100 still continue to harm us.
LTG OATES: Fifteen.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) or even with (inaudible)?
LTG OATES: Fifteen of 100 statistically, across the board, Iraq and Afghanistan, 15 percent of 100 (inaudible).
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) the question is (inaudible) typical injury and psychological (inaudible).
LTG OATES: I’ll deal with the physical first, because that’s where it’s tied to, the physical injury. You’re going to have somebody who’s going to be injured or killed. We’re still trying to understand – really we’re still trying to understand the impact on the brain of these explosives. Clearly, if somebody is struck in the head with a physical injury, we understand that better than we do if just a blast wave passes through the brain. There’s a significant amount of investigation going on now to discover what the impact is on a soldier if a blast wave goes through him but there’s no physical contact with him. I don’t know how that’s going to turn out.
I do know that speaking as a soldier who’s been in this environment, I can speak for whatever country those soldiers belong to, they’re not – they don’t see themselves as victims. Soldiers in this conflict generally volunteer to serve their countries and they’re out there taking these risks. And although we do whatever we can to help them and we treat them when they’re wounded, one thing I would tell you from a soldier’s perspective is they’re very proud of what they’re doing and they don’t like to be viewed as victims. They do appreciate the respect that they earn every day putting their lives at risk for us, and certainly as our societies, regardless of what country we’re from, we have an obligation to deal with these soldiers’ injuries because they’re out there protecting all the rest of us.
And so we are trying to find out, do some significant research on what the long-term issues are – behavioral health and physical health of these soldiers. And I don’t think that we’ve solved all of that yet. I think that will be a number of years yet to come, especially for soldiers who have done repeat tours overseas. This does have a corresponding effect on their psychological and physical health.
MODERATOR: Thank you all for coming. This event is now concluded. If you have questions that we didn’t get to, please send me an email and I’ll try and get them answered for you. I will have an audio of this event in an hour or so, and hopefully we will have a transcript by today or tomorrow.
QUESTION: By the way, is that going to be online or –
MODERATOR: It will eventually be online. If you send me an email, I will definitely send you what you need. Thank you.
LTG OATES: Thank you very much, everybody. I appreciate it. Thank you.
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