WASHINGTON — Budget hawks may cut back a 5-year-old Pentagon program aimed at curbing casualties from the crude roadside bombs known as IEDs, a leading threat to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has proposed trimming $265 million from the Pentagon's $3.2 billion budget for the program. The Government Accountability Office and some think tanks have said it is duplicative, raising questions about the long-term viability of the program.
At issue is whether the handmade bombs, which the military calls IEDs or improvised explosive devices, are likely to be continuing threats to U.S. troops, with the Iraq occupation ending this month and forces preparing for an end to the coalition combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The Pentagon created the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization in 2006, near the height of the war in Iraq. In the years since, the program has provided handheld detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs and other tools to help control the danger from the bombs, many of which are made with easily available fertilizer. Forces in Afghanistan encounter about 1,500 of them a month.
Their role in future conflicts is less clear.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Chris Perrine said, "We are not aware of any proposal to disestablish" the IED program.
Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, head of the program since March, has argued that the bombs will be a global threat for many years. Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, more than 500 "IED events" occur each month.
Retired Lt. Gen. James Dubik, a senior fellow at Association of the U.S. Army's Institute of Land Warfare, wrote in the December issue of Army magazine, "IEDs are becoming more common as domestic threats as well as overseas military threats."
The fiscal 2012 Defense Department budget request had $3.2 billion set aside for the IED program, with more than $2.7 billion of that to pay for continuing or newly contracted initiatives.
The House Armed Services Committee approved full funding for the coming fiscal year, writing in its report that it "expects improvised explosive devices to remain an enduring threat to U.S. forces." The House Appropriations Committee also endorsed full funding for the IED group.