Combating Terrorism:

State Should Enhance Its Performance Measures for Assessing Efforts in Pakistan to Counter Improvised Explosive Devices

GAO-12-614: Published: May 15, 2012. Publicly Released: Jun 6, 2012.


  • GAO: Smuggling of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Materials from Pakistan to AfghanistanVIDEO: Smuggling of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Materials from Pakistan to Afghanistan
    This video describes the threat posed by the smuggling of IED materials from Pakistan into Afghanistan. It also shows some of the key challenges to preventing such illicit commerce, both at the two official border crossing points, as well as along the rugged terrain between those border crossings.

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Charles M. Johnson, Jr
(202) 512-7331


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What GAO Found

Multiple U.S. agencies and international partners are engaged in efforts to assist Pakistan in countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs) but face a variety of ongoing challenges. The agencies providing counter-IED assistance to Pakistan are primarily the Departments of State (State), Defense (DOD), Homeland Security (DHS), and Justice (DOJ). The following table identifies the types of assistance these U.S. agencies have provided and the corresponding objectives of Pakistan’s National Counter-IED Strategy. According to U.S. officials, U.S. agencies have encountered ongoing challenges to their efforts to assist Pakistan, such as delays in obtaining visas and in the delivery of equipment. U.S. officials have also identified broader challenges to Pakistan’s ability to counter IEDs, including the extreme difficulty of interdicting smugglers along its porous border with Afghanistan. In addition, though Pakistan developed a National Counter-IED Strategy in June 2011, it has yet to finalize an implementation plan for carrying out the strategy.

The U.S. fiscal year 2013 Mission Strategic and Resource Plan (MSRP) for Pakistan includes a new performance indicator to track some of Pakistan’s efforts to counter IEDs, but the indicator and targets used to measure progress do not cover the full range of U.S. assisted efforts. The performance indicator focuses on cross-border activities, specifically on Pakistan’s efforts to prevent illicit commerce in sensitive materials, including chemical precursors used to manufacture IEDs in Afghanistan. As such, progress of U.S. counter-IED assistance efforts not specifically linked to cross-border smuggling are not covered, such as counter-IED training and/or equipment, a counter-IED public awareness campaign, and legal assistance for laws and regulations to counter-IEDs and IED precursors. Consequently, effects of key U.S. assisted counter-IED efforts are not tracked under the existing performance indicator and related targets. The absence of comprehensive performance measures that reflect the broad range of U.S. assisted counter-IED efforts limits State’s ability to track overall progress in Pakistan to counter IEDs and to determine the extent to which these counter-IED efforts are helping to achieve the U.S. goals.

Why GAO Did This Study

Improvised explosive devices have been a significant cause of fatalities among U.S. troops in Afghanistan. About 80 percent of the IEDs contain homemade explosives, primarily calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) fertilizer smuggled from Pakistan. U.S. officials recognize the threat posed by the smuggling of CAN and other IED precursors from Pakistan into Afghanistan, and State and other agencies are assisting Pakistan’s government to counter this threat. This report (1) describes the status of U.S. efforts to assist Pakistan in countering IEDs and (2) reviews State’s tracking of U.S. assisted efforts in Pakistan to counter IEDs. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed agency strategy and programmatic documents, including State’s fiscal year 2013 MSRP for Pakistan. GAO also met with U.S. officials in Washington, D.C., Arlington, Virginia, and Tampa, Florida; and met with U.S. and Pakistani officials in Islamabad, Pakistan.

What GAO Recommends

To improve State’s ability to track progress of efforts in Pakistan to counter IEDs, GAO recommends that the Secretary of State direct the U.S. Mission in Pakistan to enhance its counter-IED performance measures to cover the full range of U.S. assisted efforts. State concurred and committed to look for ways to broaden the scope of existing metrics in order to better reflect and evaluate interagency participation in counter-IED efforts.

View related video clip.

For more information, contact Charles Michael Johnson, Jr. at (202) 512-7331 or

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At the time of our May 2012 report, IEDs made from materials smuggled from Pakistan posed a significant threat to the large number of U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan, which peaked at approximately 100,000 during the time of our review. Subsequent to our report, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has substantially declined (less than 10,000 as of August 2016), thus diminishing the strategic importance of addressing IED materials smuggled from Pakistan. As a result, GAO's recommendation was overtaken by external events.

    Recommendation: To improve State's ability to track progress of efforts in Pakistan to counter IEDs, the Secretary of State should direct the U.S. Mission in Pakistan to enhance its counter-IED performance measures to cover the full range of U.S. assisted efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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