Commentary: Pentagon must do better with IEDs

We tend to believe there's a technological solution to every problem. So starting five years ago, the Pentagon put some of our best minds to work on finding ways to protect soldiers from roadside bombs – the deadliest threat they faced in Iraq, and now, in Afghanistan.

Counteracting IEDs – improvised explosive devices – is extraordinarily complex, and the bombs have become increasingly sophisticated and powerful.

Still, that doesn't excuse the pitiful performance by the Pentagon agency put in charge of the effort. It has ballooned to 1,900 employees and has spent nearly $17 billion in taxpayer money – but has precious little to show for it.

Defense Department officials need to take a hard look at how the agency can more effectively spot promising initiatives, bankroll those and cast aside problematic ones before they cost too much.

If they dither, they ought to be prodded by congressional committees with oversight, including the House Armed Services Committee, led by Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita. That panel also includes Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Lakeside, a former Marine who says the Pentagon needs to do better.

As detailed in a report in Sunday's Bee by Peter Cary of the Center for Public Integrity and Nancy A. Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers' Washington bureau, the agency has utterly failed to improve troops' ability to find unexploded IEDs, particularly at safer distances. The best defenses remain the lower-tech, more dangerous methods: soldiers placed in harm's way and trained dogs.

Not only that, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization – a name only the military-industrial complex could love – hasn't properly evaluated its programs to avoid repeating costly mistakes and has violated its own accounting rules, the report concluded. Those flaws showed through when the agency continued to pour money into a vehicle designed to detonate IEDs by shooting a bolt of electricity, despite skepticism from scientists and discouraging test results.

As the failures pile up, so do the casualties.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.