Sunday, September 30, 2007

The IED problem is getting out of control. We've got to stop the bleeding

By Rick Atkinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 30, 2007; A13

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- By the late summer of 2002, as the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington approached, an American victory in Afghanistan appeared all but assured.

A pro-Western government had convened in Kabul. Reconstruction teams fanned out through the provinces. U.S. and coalition troops hunted Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants in the mountains along the Pakistani border.

Among the few shadows on this sunny Central Asian tableau -- besides the escape of Osama bin Laden -- was the first appearance of roadside bombs triggered by radio waves.

There were not many. U.S. forces would report fewer than two dozen improvised explosive devices of all sorts in Afghanistan in 2002. But the occasional RC -- radio-controlled -- bombs were much more sophisticated than the booby traps with trip wires typically seen by American troops.

A triggerman with a radio transmitter could send a signal several hundred yards to a hidden bomb built with a receiver linked to an electrical firing circuit, which in turn detonated an attached artillery shell or a scavenged land mine.

That receiver included a slender box about three inches square housing a modified circuit board resembling a long-legged spider. The Spider Mod 1, as the device was dubbed, would remain a weapon of Afghan bombmakers in various iterations for more than five years -- and an emblem of defiance against the world's only military superpower.

Captured Spider devices were shipped to the United States for forensic examination. Maj. Gen. John R. Vines, commander of the U.S. task force in Afghanistan, had a sense of what his troops were up against. "What can we do to protect our forces?" he asked his subordinates. "I'll take a 30 percent solution. That's better than zero."

Even that modest request seemed daunting. U.S. soldiers and Marines had no mobile electronic countermeasures capable of disrupting RC triggers by blocking the radio signal.

Bomb squads -- known in the military as EOD teams, for explosive ordnance disposal -- carried a feeble jammer called the Citadel, which created a stationary protective "bubble" around technicians defusing a device. But the few Citadels in service could not be mounted on vehicles to protect patrols and convoys, and they were too weak to provide protection beyond a few yards.

Special Operations units employed electronic countermeasures, and the Secret Service used powerful mobile jammers to shield presidential motorcades and other prominent targets. Yet such gadgets were few in number, much in demand and highly classified.

That left the Navy as a solution. For decades, electronic countermeasures had been a vital part of airborne combat for Navy fliers. Submariners also considered it a "core mission," as did surface ship officers. "It's how I deal with cruise missiles coming at me," said Rear Adm. Arch Macy, commander of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Washington.

After a yellow Mercedes-Benz truck stuffed with explosives killed 241 U.S. troops in Beirut in October 1983, the Navy began investing in a top-secret program in counter-RC technology. That led to a family of jammers, known as the Channel series, intended to protect ships arriving at foreign ports where RC bombs could be hidden in the docks.

By 2002, some of these devices were considered obsolete and had been consigned to a warehouse shelf. But Navy specialists in Indian Head, Md., 30 miles south of Washington, reconfigured a jammer they called Acorn, which neatly matched the frequencies used by the Spider Mod 1 in Afghanistan. In November 2002, 45 days after the first plea for help from Afghanistan, several dozen Acorns began arriving at Bagram Air Base.

Army EOD experts distributed each device, mounting the gray box and antenna on Humvees and Special Forces sport-utility vehicles. Instructing soldiers in the nuances of wave propagation and other electronic mysteries proved challenging; one device reportedly was installed on a water truck that never left the base. Successful jamming meant troops had no way of recognizing that they were even under attack by a radio-controlled IED. Acorns could also interfere with radios and other electronics.

Still, Vines's "30 percent solution" was more than fulfilled. As one retired Navy captain later recalled of Acorn: "We expected it to last six months before the bad guys figured it out." Instead, more than 2,000 Acorns eventually outfitted the force in Afghanistan where, like the Spider, it would remain a fixture on the battlefield for the next five years.

* * *

While U.S. forces parried the fledgling IED threat in Afghanistan, secret planning for the invasion of Iraq had accelerated. Little thought was given to roadside bombs as a serious obstacle to the American juggernaut. But U.S. strategists feared that Saddam Hussein would destroy his own oil production facilities rather than let them be captured. Scorched-earth tactics by retreating Iraqi troops in 1991 had turned Kuwait's oil fields into an inferno.

U.S. intelligence in early 2003 reported that wellheads in southern Iraq had been wired for detonation, and that Iraqi forces probably had the ability to use radio-controlled triggers to detonate those demolition charges. Jammers would be needed to secure the fields.

Even as the Navy converted Acorn into a battlefield countermeasure, Army engineers at Fort Monmouth, N.J., were working on their own mobile jammers. First in a laboratory and then in field tests, they modified an old system called Shortstop, originally built in 1990 as a footlocker-size gadget to confound the proximity fuses in incoming artillery and mortar shells.

By intercepting and modifying the radio signals emitted by such fuses, Shortstop tricked the shells into believing they were approaching the ground, causing them to detonate prematurely. Shortstop had been completed too late for use in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and it was deployed to Bosnia only briefly. A Pentagon inventory showed that the Army had almost 300 systems in storage.

With different computer chips and a cleverly modified ham radio antenna, Shortstop made an admirable jammer. The wife of one Fort Monmouth engineer collected miniature kitchen witches that inspired a new name for the device: Warlock Green. After final fixes in California, five Warlocks were shipped to Kuwait in time to accompany the invasion forces plunging into Iraq in March 2003, according to a senior officer involved in the effort.

The countermeasure proved unnecessary. Not a single oil well was rigged for radio-controlled detonation. Some oil facilities were sabotaged, but the damage was less grievous than feared.

Yet the Army jammer had found a home on the battlefield. As Shortstops were transformed into Warlock Greens -- each device cost about $100,000, according to a contractor involved in the program -- they were shipped in large Rubbermaid storage cases to Afghanistan, where a technician laminated his business card onto the devices so soldiers knew whom to call for help. Others would be packed up, driven to the Baltimore-Washington international airport in a rented van and flown to Iraq.

By late summer 2003, almost 100 Warlocks had been deployed, according to an Army document that said IEDs were "increasing in number and complexity at an alarming rate." Another Navy jammer, originally designed to protect four-star flag officers, also began arriving in the theater -- first six, then 30 and eventually 300.

If no one foresaw that within four years more than 30,000 jammers of all sorts would be in Iraq, a few suspected that something big had started. "We're going to need a lot more jammers," Col. Bruce Jette, who commanded the Army's Rapid Equipping Force at Fort Belvoir, told a Fort Monmouth engineer in August 2003. "And eventually we're going to need a jammer on every vehicle."


Bombmaking by definition required explosives, and in that commodity, as in oil, Iraq was richly endowed. "The entire country was one big ammo dump," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would observe this past March. "It's just a huge, huge problem."

The problem was also huge in 2003. Yet U.S. strategists, who before the invasion failed to anticipate an insurgency, also drafted no comprehensive plans for securing thousands of munitions caches, now estimated to have held at least 650,000 tons and perhaps more than 1 million tons of explosives. "There's more ammunition in Iraq than any place I've ever been in my life, and it's not securable," Gen. John P. Abizaid told the Senate Appropriations Committee shortly after taking over U.S. Central Command in July 2003. "I wish I could tell you that we had it all under control. We don't."

To forestall looting, U.S. forces tried spreading putrid substances across the dumps, as well as cementing artillery rounds together or burying large caches. "We're now finding people tunneling 30 feet down and carting the stuff away," an analyst noted earlier this year. Sloshing diesel fuel across the dumps and lighting it, among several haphazard "blow and go" techniques, often simply scattered the rounds. More than a year after the invasion "only 40 percent of Iraq's pre-war munitions inventory was secured or destroyed," the Congressional Research Service reported this summer.

Tens of thousands of tons probably were pilfered, U.S. government analysts believe. (If properly positioned, 20 pounds of high explosive can destroy any vehicle the Army owns.) The lax control would continue long after Hussein was routed: 10,000 or more blasting caps -- also vital to bombmaking -- vanished from an Iraqi bureau of mines storage facility in 2004, along with "thousands of kilometers" of detonation cord, according to a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst.

In the summer of 2003, pilfered explosives appeared in growing numbers of IEDs. Main Supply Route Tampa, the main road for military convoys driving between Baghdad and Kuwait, became a common target. Three artillery shells wired to a timer west of Taji, discovered on July 29, reportedly made up the first confirmed delay bomb. Others were soon found using egg timers or Chinese washing-machine timers.

Radio-controlled triggers tended to be simple and low-power, using car key fobs or wireless doorbell buzzers -- Qusun was the most common brand -- with a range of 200 meters or less. Radio controls from toy cars beamed signals to a small electrical motor attached to a bomb detonator; turning the toy's front wheels completed the circuit and triggered the explosion.

U.S. troops dubbed the crude devices "bang-bang" because spurious signals could cause premature detonations, sometimes killing the emplacer. Bombers soon learned to install safety switches in the contraptions, and to use better radio links.

Camouflage remained simple, with bombs tucked in roadkill or behind highway guardrails. (Soldiers soon ripped out hundreds of miles of guardrail.) Emplacers often used the same "blow hole" repeatedly, returning to familiar roadside "hot spots" again and again. But early in the insurgency, before U.S. troops were better trained, only about one bomb in 10 was found and neutralized, according to an Army colonel.

Coalition forces tended to concentrate at large FOBs -- forward operating bases -- with few entry roads. "Insurgents seized the initiative on these common routes," according to a 2007 account of the counter-IED effort by Col. William G. Adamson. "The vast majority of IED attacks occurred within a short distance of the FOBs."

Each week, the cat-and-mouse game expanded. When coalition convoys routinely began stopping 300 yards from a suspected IED, insurgents planted easily spotted hoax bombs to halt traffic, then detonated explosives that had been hidden where a convoy would most likely pull over.

By the early fall of 2003, IED attacks had reached 100 a month, according to a House Armed Services Committee document. Most were a nuisance; some proved stunning and murderous. A large explosion along a roadbed near Balad in October of that year flung a 70-ton M1A2 Abrams tank down an embankment, shearing off the turret and killing two crewmen. Even more horrifying was a truck bomb at 4:45 p.m. on Aug. 19 that demolished the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, killing the U.N. special representative and 22 others.

Day by day, as Adamson would write, "the concept of a front, or line of battle, vanished" in Iraq, giving way to "360-degree warfare."


IEDs had quickly moved to the top of Abizaid's anxieties at Central Command. A Lebanese American who spoke Arabic and who had studied as an Olmsted scholar at the University of Jordan in Amman, the four-star general had seen for himself the aggravation that roadside bombs caused Israeli forces in Lebanon in the 1980s.

Two weeks after taking command from the retiring Gen. Tommy R. Franks, Abizaid publicly described resistance in Iraq as "a classical guerrilla-style campaign," a blunt appraisal that reportedly irked the Pentagon's civilian leadership. But the amount of unsecured ammunition in Iraq, particularly in Sunni regions, alarmed him. So did the realization that many Iraqi military officers -- unemployed and disgruntled after the national army was disbanded in late May -- possessed extensive skill in handling explosives.

Abizaid hoped that American technical savvy would produce a gadget that could detect bombs at a distance, "a scientific molecular sniffer, or something," as he put it. "We thought the problem would spread," Abizaid later reflected, "but it didn't appear overly sophisticated." Underestimating the enemy's creativity and overestimating American ingenuity, a pattern established before the war began, continued long after the capture of Baghdad.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. ground commander in Iraq, told Pentagon strategists that he hoped to minimize the military's "footprint" in Iraq by maintaining an occupation force that was two-thirds motorized and only one-third mechanized. "What I don't want is a lot of tanks and Bradleys," Sanchez said, according to a senior Army commander.

That meant mounting most troops on Humvees, few of which were built to withstand bombs or even small-arms fire. Soldiers had begun fashioning crude "hillbilly armor" for their vehicles from scrap metal. Even factory-built armored vehicles had been designed to resist projectiles fired at a distance, according to a senior Army scientist, and not against point-blank explosions in which steel fragments and blast overpressure -- from gases hotter than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit forming in 1/10,000th of a second -- struck simultaneously.

Production of the stout "uparmored" Humvee started in 1996, but as a specialty vehicle for military police and Special Forces; an average of one per day had been built before the war, according to congressional documents. The entire fleet of uparmored Humvees in the theater in 2003 totaled 235, the Army chief of staff would later report.

With no master list of where uparmored Humvees were deployed, logisticians searched U.S. motor pools around the world. Seventy were found in Air Force missile fields in North Dakota and elsewhere, according to a former senior officer on the joint staff, but it took a four-star order to pry them away for duty in the Middle East.

Protecting individual soldiers was a bit simpler. In June 2003, the Pentagon decided to outfit every trooper in theater with tough interceptor body armor. By December, eight vendors would produce 25,000 sets a month, according to congressional documents, and by April 2004 all U.S. military personnel in Iraq had received high-quality protection. The documents show that Congress has appropriated more than $4 billion for body armor so far.

But as summer yielded to fall in 2003, the final defense against roadside bombs often fell to a few hundred EOD technicians, whose informal motto -- "Initial success or total failure" -- suggested the hazards in what was known as "the long walk."

Summoned to neutralize a suspected bomb, a tech donned a cumbersome, blast-resistant outfit that resembled a deep-sea diving suit, with a transparent face shield and extra padding to protect femoral arteries, genitals and the spinal column. The robots then available to "interrogate" a device were crude and few in number, forcing the tech to conduct the examination himself.

"All you can hear is the fan in your helmet, your heart beating and your breathing," recalled Sgt. First Class Troy Parker, who served in Iraq in 2003. "And you're wondering if this is the last walk you're ever going to take."

Sometimes it was. On Sept. 10, 2003, in Baghdad, Staff Sgt. Joseph E. Robsky Jr. was trying to disarm an IED when an apparent RC-trigger detonated a mortar shell packed with C-4 plastic explosive. Robsky, 31, would be among more than 50 EOD technicians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the late summer of this year.

Within hours of his death, a call went out to assemble all EOD robots in Baghdad at the international airport for an inventory, according to a senior Navy EOD officer in Iraq at the time. They found 18 robots, and only six of them worked.


By late September 2003, Lt. Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army's operations chief, believed that IEDs not only threatened soldiers in Iraq, who included his two sons and a nephew, but also posed a strategic risk to U.S. ambitions in the region. "The IED problem is getting out of control," he told Col. Christopher P. Hughes, a staff officer. "We've got to stop the bleeding."

A Lebanese American West Point graduate like Abizaid, Cody was the son of a Chevrolet dealer in Montpelier, Vt. Stocky and intense, with thick hair the color of gunmetal, he had fired the first shots of the Gulf War in January 1991 while attacking an Iraqi radar site as commander of an Apache helicopter battalion. His appetites ran to hard work, New York Times crossword puzzles, Red Man chewing tobacco, Diet Coke and two-pound bags of peanut M&Ms, which he could eat in one sitting.

Hughes drafted a sheaf of PowerPoint slides labeled "IED Task Force: A Way," which proposed forming a small unit with a Washington director and two field teams "designed to respond to incidents." To recruit active-duty Special Operations troops would take at least nine months, so with Cody's approval and a chit for $20 million, Hughes hired Wexford Group International, a security consultant in Vienna, Va. Two retired Delta Force soldiers soon arrived in room 2D468 of the Pentagon to begin assembling the field teams from a "black Rolodex" of former special operators.

To run his task force, Cody chose one of the Army's most charismatic young officers, Joseph L. Votel, then 45, who had just been selected for promotion to brigadier general. A tall, good-humored Minnesotan, Votel had commanded the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. More recently, in Iraq, three of his Rangers had been killed near Haditha with a suicide bomb detonated by a pregnant woman; two other Rangers had died in a roadside bombing on Route Irish, near the Baghdad airport.

Votel expected the job of controlling IEDs to take six months, maybe eight. "And then we move on," he said. He moved his small staff into a shabby, malodorous corner of the Army operations center in the Pentagon basement and posted a sign on the wall: "STOP THE BLEEDING."

Even by Pentagon standards, the hours were brutal. Those who lived in the Washington exurbs typically rose at 3:45 a.m. to be at their desks by 5:30, where they remained until 9 p.m. or later. To avoid bureaucratic friction with other agencies, Votel advised: "Stay small, stay light, be agile, move quickly. . . . There's goodness in smallness."

About a dozen former Delta Force operators were hired as contractors for the nucleus of the field teams. Some would earn $1,000 a day while deployed, according to two knowledgeable officers. Cody sent them to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to interview soldiers wounded by IEDs, to learn "what they wished they had done" before being blown up.

To arm the teams, the task force borrowed rifles from the Old Guard ceremonial regiment at Fort Myer and drafted permission slips for the contractors to carry weapons in Iraq. Instead of standard Army pistols, the men requested the Glock 9mm. "Sir," Votel told Cody, "these guys want Glocks." Cody gestured impatiently. "So get them Glocks."

In his diary on Nov. 17, 2003, Cody scribbled: "We have to make sure our commanders and soldiers are not at the end of this process but are engaged throughout the process." Toward that end, Votel and Hughes flew to Baghdad to secure a small compound at Camp Victory and to explain the task force to senior officers in Iraq.

The intent was to train troops to recognize and counter IEDs, Votel said, and to "build an architecture between the theater and Big Army" back in the States. IED incidents would be documented in detail at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and notably effective tactics and techniques would be disseminated to units preparing to deploy.

Eventually, Votel added, the effort would move "left of boom" by attacking bomber networks before devices could be placed and detonated. In the IED battle, the task force was to help "protect, predict, prevent, detect and neutralize" -- known as "tenets of assured mobility" -- which Votel borrowed as his conceptual framework from the Army Engineer School.

"Why are you bringing me a 7,000-mile screwdriver to fix this from D.C.?" asked one skeptical general in Baghdad. "Nothing good ever comes from Washington." Still, most commanders welcomed the assistance.

The first seven-man field team flew to Iraq on Dec. 12, 2003. Several others were to follow, including one sent to Afghanistan. Working initially with the 4th Infantry Division, and shuttling between bases in unarmored Chevy Suburbans, the team members in Iraq advocated infantry basics: "shoot, move, communicate, clear routes, don't set patterns." Troops were advised to watch for wires and triggermen away from the road, to be unpredictable, to use a "porcupine approach" in patrols and convoys, with all guns bristling and flank guards deployed.

By February 2004, the number of IED attacks in Iraq approached 100 a week. About half detonated, a proportion that would remain relatively constant for the next three years. The bleeding had hardly stopped, but to Central Command it seemed to have stabilized.

The casualty-per-blast ratio was dropping. Troops quickly learned counter-IED survival skills. Some bombers were arrested or killed. On good days the number of attacks dwindled to single digits, and U.S. bomb fatalities in February totaled nine, fewer than half the number in January.

"It looks to me like we're winning this thing," Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, the Centcom deputy commander, told Abizaid at their forward headquarters in Qatar. "We're kicking ass."

Abizaid gave a thin smile. "Stand by," he said. "They're just plotting."


On March 28, 2004, U.S. troops shut down the incendiary newspaper of Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric with a volatile following in the Baghdad slums. "All hell broke loose," a Centcom officer later noted. By late spring, IED attacks had nearly doubled, with bombers apparently drawn from the ranks of disaffected Shiites as well as Sunnis.

IEDs had become "the greatest casualty producer" in Iraq, Abizaid told Congress, surpassing RPG-7s, a rocket-propelled grenade. Insurgents increasingly promoted their deeds with videotapes released to al-Jazeera and other Arab media outlets. Spectacular explosions of Abrams tanks and other "icon vehicles," as U.S. officers called high-value targets, soon filled airwaves and Web sites.

For Joe Votel and his task force in Washington, the IED fight had become a complex exercise in phenomenology. How did blast and shrapnel interact at close range? How did bomber cells thrive? Why did jammers seem to work in some areas and not others? The six- to eight-month time frame he foresaw for controlling IEDs would require an extension.

More than 500 mobile jammers had reached Iraq, but thousands more were needed. By late spring 2004, the task force had finally established a jammer strategy: get as many systems into theater as possible -- including Warlock Green, a sister device known as Warlock Red, and a Navy jammer called Cottonwood, which was removed from the Suburban in which it typically rode, installed in an armored vehicle and renamed Ironwood. Meanwhile, engineers would develop a single powerful variant that covered as much of the RC spectrum as possible.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a former paratrooper and Vietnam veteran from San Diego who chaired the House Armed Services Committee, watched the Army's response to IEDs with impatience. In February 2004, a committee memo to the service noted that "arsenals, depots, industry, and steel mills" were not at full capacity in making heavy plates for uparmored Humvees. House staffers visited the steel plants, extracting pledges to defer commercial work until almost 7,000 Humvee armor kits were finished in May, six months ahead of the Army's original schedule.

Hunter was particularly incensed to find skittish troops bolting thin steel and even plywood to military trucks traveling along Route Tampa and other hazardous Iraqi roads. In January, he had asked Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco to design an armored gun truck similar to those used in the Vietnam War, the sole surviving example of which he found in the Army's transportation museum at Fort Eustis, Va.

In March, a five-ton prototype, with steel and ballistic fiberglass protection added to the cab and truck bed, was shipped for testing to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

On June 4, Hunter appeared at the Pentagon's River Entrance with a freshly painted gun truck and placards, mounted on easels, listing its virtues. Cody and others from the top brass wandered out to kick the tires. No one wanted to buck the powerful chairman, but several paratroopers soon appeared to inform Hunter "how much they loved the Humvee better than these big things, how nice and small and agile it was," he later recalled.

Hunter was not dissuaded. Nearly 100 gun-truck kits would be sent to Iraq, at $40,000 each, and 18 to Afghanistan. Some soldiers sang the truck's praises, while others found it top-heavy and "something of a grenade basket," according to a senior commander in the 10th Mountain Division. Still, of more than 9,000 medium and heavy military transport trucks rolling through Iraq in late 2004, only about one in 10 had armor, according to The convoys remained vulnerable.

A Vietnam-era relic would hardly solve the IED threat permanently. Several influential voices in Washington now questioned the Pentagon's approach. Retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the president of the Institute for Defense Analyses and a former U.S. commander in chief in the Pacific, complained to the joint staff about the lack of systematic, rigorous analysis of IED trends. "The Army is not dealing with the IED problem well, because it's not in their nature," Blair said. "They're used to taking off from the line of departure, capturing the enemy capital and having a victory parade."

Moreover, the emphasis on defeating the device, Blair added, was "like playing soccer and you're spending all your money and attention on the goalie's gloves. At that point, not only is this the last line of defense, but the ball is already in the air."

At Centcom, Smith also was frustrated by the lack of urgency. Four months after concluding that "we're winning this thing," he now had doubts about the national commitment to overcoming IEDs. "We have got to get at this thing in a different way than we're addressing it right now," he advised Abizaid in Qatar in June 2004. "We've got to have something like the Manhattan Project."

The allusion to the crash program that had built the atomic bomb in World War II -- an effort eventually employing 125,000 people and many of the nation's finest scientific minds -- appealed to Abizaid's imagination. Several days later he wrote a personal message to the Pentagon leadership asking for a "Manhattan Project-like" approach to IEDs.

"What the [expletive] does he think we're doing?" Cody snapped upon learning of the request. But the Centcom commander's plea could hardly be brushed aside. In a meeting with Cody and Votel, according to a participant in the session, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked whether the Army could meet Abizaid's request.

The Army believed it could, particularly if the service was made the executive agent for an expanded effort that involved the entire Defense Department. That meant getting the other services to relinquish money, personnel and bureaucratic control, an encroachment that quickly triggered alarms.

Meetings convened, exchanges grew stormy. The Navy and Marine Corps had pursued their own counter-IED programs, and the Air Force particularly resisted putting the Army in charge of a Pentagon-wide enterprise.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz believed change was necessary. Why, he had asked his staff, did it take so long for armor, jammers and other counter-IED materiel to reach Iraq and Afghanistan? "Where is all this stuff?" he complained. "When is it going to get to theater?"

The effort seemed fragmented and ad hoc -- "sucked into technology rabbit holes," as Votel put it. A survey by the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk that spring had found that at least 132 government agencies were now involved in IED issues, from the FBI and CIA to the National Security Agency and the National Ground Intelligence Center in Charlottesville, Va., according to an Army brigadier general.

The battle against IEDs exceeded the management capacity of a single service, Wolfowitz concluded. On July 12, 2004, he signed a one-paragraph order that transformed the Army task force into a joint task force. Votel would remain director, with cramped offices in the Army operations center. But he now reported to Wolfowitz rather than to Cody, and the task force would draw expertise from all services.x

Cody, who became the Army's four-star vice chief of staff in late June, accepted the decision graciously, even as he told one senior Army officer who now worked for Wolfowitz, "Don't forget where you came from."

Creation of the Joint IED Task Force would dramatically expand the U.S. effort. A $100 million budget in fiscal 2004 would mushroom to $1.3 billion in 2005. In subsequent meetings with industry executives and the national research laboratories, Wolfowitz declared that there was no higher priority.

Within the Defense Department, countering IEDs would be second only to exterminating Osama bin Laden.

"This is a major strategic effort," Wolfowitz told one group. "What can you put into it?"


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