By Rowan Scarborough
The Washington Times
In a shift in tactics, the U.S. military in Afghanistan plans to rely more on old-fashioned surveillance, as compared with new-age technology, to stop the biggest killer of American service members in the field.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, said he was informed by the Pentagon in recent weeks that the command is building up a special task force to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify, Neutralize) is designed to constantly watch troop and convoy routes to catch the enemy planting IEDs, which account for more than 50 percent of U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan.
"I just found out they finally instituted ODIN in one province, Ghazni, in Regional Command East," Mr. Hunter, California Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Washington Times. "IED attacks dropped by 70 percent. They have already killed 25 insurgents. That was after 20 days of being on line."
The Pentagon has spent nearly $20 billion in a concerted effort since 2004 to blunt IEDs after they became prime weapons for insurgents in Iraq and then for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for Gen. Petraeus referred questions to the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, which coordinates all counter-IED work. A spokeswoman for the organization referred questions to the Pentagon, which did not respond to a reporter's questions over several days.
However, a senior NATO officer in Afghanistan told The Times, "We have added substantial additional counter-IED platforms, optics, assets."
Mr. Hunter, a captain in the Marine Corps Reserve, has pushed for months for the Pentagon to put more surveillance aircraft in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, analysts are debating whether the best counters to IEDs are high-tech jammers, lasers and detection devices - on which the Defense Department has spent billions of dollars - or on something simpler such as watching the roads where the bombs are embedded.
Mr. Hunter, who fought in Fallujah, said Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, greatly relied on the task force during the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, with dramatically improved results.
Mr. Hunter said Gen. Petraeus' commanders "created an Army air unit that was able to do this outside [the defense secretary office's] purview on the Army's own so they didn't have to go through any red tape. They killed more bad guys than the rest of the people in Iraq put together, and they were all IED emplacements."