Gates announced the new task force today, and said he expects its members to spend the next six months reporting to him about the best way to deal with the improvised explosive device threat in Afghanistan.
The task force will be co-chaired by Ashton Carter, undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics; and Marine Lt. Gen. John M. “Jay” Paxton Jr., the Joint Staff’s operations chief. It will integrate work by the Joint IED Defeat Organization and the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and acquisition communities, Gates said.
The task force also will work directly with Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, and other ground commanders.
Gates noted broad efforts already under way throughout the department, but said he hopes the task force will cut through organizational stovepipes to make them more effective.
“We have people working all these different pieces,” he said. “My concern is whether all this has been properly integrated and prioritized and aligned, and whether we are adaptable and agile enough.”
Gates said he has tasked the new body “to make sure we have integrated all the capabilities we have to go after this challenge,” he said. “And if they identify a need for something new, then so we can go get it and get it into the hands of the troops and the commanders.”
The goal is to ensure the military has the same level of capabilities in Afghanistan that it has built in Iraq, he said. These include not just counter-IED measures, but also forensics labs and analytical capabilities to help identify and track terrorist networks that build and emplace them.
“The whole purpose of this, really, is to make sure we get the troops what they need to protect themselves, and also the tools to be more effective in taking down these networks,” he said.
Gates already has sent the new task force a job: to analyze lessons the Mujahadeen learned when it used the same kinds of IEDs being used today against U.S. troops as in its struggle against the Soviet Union three decades ago.
“So let’s go back and look at the playbook they used against the Soviets to see if there is something we have learned in terms of adapting our tactics, techniques and procedures,” he said.