Don’t step off the road-There might be another one!”- James Garrity

Antipersonnel and territory-denial devices utilizing clandestine or improvised techniques have been utilized in asymmetric and guerilla warfare since the beginning of conflicts and war. During World War I, the systematic use of IEDs and booby traps to effect casualties during the retreat of German troops at the Somme region was a well-used tactic. Another early example of coordinated large-scale use of IEDs was the Belarusian Rail War, launched by Belarusian guerillas against the Germans in World War II. Both command-detonated and delayed-fuse IEDs were used to derail thousands of German trains during 1943-1944.

Gunnery Sgt. Erik Chism, an instructor with the Engineer Center of Excellence Mobile Training Team from Camp Lejeune, N.C., emplaces a mock improvised explosive device during route clearance training aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 will soon assume responsibility for keeping the supply routes in Al Anbar province clear of roadside bombs.
Gunnery Sgt. Erik Chism, an instructor with the Engineer Center of Excellence Mobile Training Team from Camp Lejeune, N.C., emplaces a mock improvised explosive device during route clearance training aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 will soon assume responsibility for keeping the supply routes in Al Anbar province clear of roadside bombs.

In the Vietnam War, booby traps consisting of well concealed fragmentation grenades, claymore mines, and even sharpened bamboo stakes, known as “punji stakes” were strung between trees, configured on trails and roads with trip wires and camouflaged cover. IEDs were commonly deployed by the Viet Cong against land-and river-borne vehicles, as well as personnel. These devices were commonly constructed using materials from unexploded American ordnance (UXO). 33% of U.S. casualties in Vietnam and 28% of deaths were officially attributed to mines; these figures include losses caused by both IEDs and commercially manufactured mines. The “grenade in a can” was a simple, field-expedient and effective booby trap. A hand grenade with the safety pin removed and safety lever compressed was placed into a container such as a tin can, with a length of string or tripwire attached to the grenade.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) direct action teams had rapidly adopted guerilla and urban warfare -style tactics, and became expert in the construction and use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), while the anti-establishment subversives of 1960s, such as the Weathermen Underground, had developed expertise of their own. The Provisional IRA made extensive use of IEDs in their 1969-97 campaign. They used barrack buster mortars and remote controlled IEDs. IRA bombs became highly sophisticated, featuring anti-handling devices such as a mercury tilt switch or microswitches.

Typically, the safety-arming device used was a clockwork Memopark timer, which armed the bomb up to 60 minutes after it was placed by completing an electrical circuit supplying power to the anti-handling device. Roadside bombs were extensively used by the IRA. Typically, a roadside bomb was placed in a drain or culvert along a rural road and detonated by remote control when British security forces were passing. Most IRA IEDs incorporated commercial or homemade explosives, although the use of Semtex-H smuggled in from Libya in the 1980s was also common from the mid-1980s onward. The IRA also used secondary devices to generate casualties in British reinforcements sent in after an initial blast, as occurred in the Warrenpoint Ambush.

Utilizing lessons learned derived from unconventional warfare and acts of political violence and terrorism, i.e. the Vietnam War and Ireland, EOD units from around the world developed tactics, countermeasures and equipment to combat current and future IED threats. Before the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR on 27 December 1979, the Afghan Mujahideen were supplied with large quantities of military supplies. The insurgents often removed the explosives from several foreign anti-tank mines, and combined them the explosives in tin cooking oil cans for a more forceful blast. After an IED was detonated, the insurgents often used arms such as machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) to further propagate the assault.

Since the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban and its supporters have used IEDs, including roadside bombs, against NATO and Afghan forces and military vehicles. According to a report by the Homeland Security Market Research in the USA, the number of IEDs used in Afghanistan had increased by 400% since 2007 and the number of troops killed by them by 400%, and those wounded in action by 700%. It has been reported that IEDs are the number one cause of death among NATO troops in Afghanistan. In July 2012, it was reported that “sticky bombs”, magnetically adhesive IEDs that were prevalent in the Iraq war, showed up in Afghanistan.

In Lebanon, the Lebanese National Resistance Front, other resistance groups in Lebanon, and later Hezbollah, made extensive use of IEDs to resist Israeli forces. In the 2006 war in Lebanon, a Merkava Mark II tank was hit by a pre-positioned Hezbollah IED, killing all 4 Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) servicemen on board. Similarly, IEDs have been popular in Chechnya, where Russian forces have been engaged in combating rebel elements. IED type bombs have accounted for many Russian deaths in both the First Chechen War (1994-96) and the Second Chechen War (1999-2008).

In the 2003-2011 Iraq war, IEDs have been used extensively against Coalition forces and by the end of 2007 they have been responsible for at least 64% of Coalition deaths in Iraq. Beginning in July 2003, the Iraqi insurgency used IEDs to target invading Coalition vehicles. Insurgents continue to utilize IEDs, including roadside bombs, to target military, resistance forces and Iraqi police assets, as well. Common locations for placing IEDs in the Middle East battlefields include animal carcasses, soft drink cans, and boxes. Due to improved counter-IED countermeasures, such as improved vehicle armor, IEDs have been placed in elevated positions, such as road signs and utility poles.

In the US, the 1995 Oklahoma City (OKC) bombing of the Murrah Federal building, was heralded as the worst act of domestic terrorism. Timothy McVeigh and Terry McNichols outfitted a rental struck with an IED utilizing ammonium nitrate fertilizer, nitromethane, and stolen commercial explosives, with sandbags configured to funnel the explosive force in the desired location. The detonation of the OKC device resulted in the tragic loss of 168 lives, including 19 children. In January 2011, a shaped pipe bomb was discovered and rendered safe along the route of a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial march in Spokane, Washington. The bomb was specifically enhanced to cause maximum harm, as the perpetrators incorporated fishing weights coated with rat poison. On April 15, 2013, two pressure-cooker type IEDS were placed along the route of the Boston Marathon by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and detonated causing three deaths and 264 injured. What began as a mass casualty incident (MCI) and an effort to secure the blast area became a post-blast investigation for secondary devices, and a complex tactical situation and confrontation with active shooters .

The worsening situations in the other hot zones of the world, such as Syria and Yemen, are slathered on our minds by a constant barrage of media images of daily atrocities. The barbarism of the Islamic State continues to be demonstrated by wholesale senseless murder perpetrated by misguided ultra-radical forces utilizing IEDs as integral components of their growing armamentarium.

Counter-IED measures utilizing robots, improved detection technologies, disrupter devices and enhanced EOD training for military and law enforcement personnel have been helpful to counter the threat, however, IEDs, including the ubiquitous roadside bomb continue to pose great challenges to military and protective/emergency services. As ISIS continue their use of various forms of IEDS, including roadside devices, and more individuals become radicalized to commit acts of jihad, the proliferation and use of roadside IEDs, and other forms of explosive improvisations will continue to rise.

With the integration of toxic industrial chemicals, such as chlorine, radionuclides, accelerants, and shrapnel to maximize harm, terrorists, insurgents and other factions will be able to upgrade their ability to generate death, disability, devastation, fear and panic among the innocent and those who gallantly strive to fight for freedom and justice and preserve global security and safety.

A form of “translational warfare” using asymmetric techniques and guerilla tactics has been extrapolated from jungle, desert and urban warfare experiences to our global homelands using these diabolical devices. The road ahead must lead us to safety and security for all. At all points and from all directions, the road ahead must be traveled with humanity, civility and freedom from oppression as guideposts. The road taken must be freed of tyranny, coercion and terror, and the infernal tools of conquest and radical thought.

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Frank G. Rando possesses over 30 years of real world experience as a public safety professional,clinician, educator ,emergency and crisis manager ,author and consultant in the areas of tactical ,disaster and operational medicine, weapons and tactics, law enforcement /criminal investigations ,counterterrorism, hazardous materials management and emergency response ,toxicology, environmental safety and health,and health care and public health emergency management .