This month’s IBC Threat Assessment includes:
- US government still opposed to initiating a no-fly zone in parts of Syria to stop (chlorine) barrel bomb attacks by the Assad regime
- Severe outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) in South Korea still not under full control after more than one month
- The de-commissioning of the Chernobyl nuclear plant and safety upgrades of other reactors in Ukraine is highly dependent on international financial support
- The United States and Russia are taking steps that may result in a new East-West confrontation in Europe
- More effective C-IED strategies require improved date collection and information-sharing about worsening IED problem
End date of collection: June 25, 2015
US government still opposed to initiating a no-fly zone in parts of Syria to stop (chlorine) barrel bomb attacks by the Assad regime
* The initiation of a no-fly zone in parts of Syria would protect the civilian population by deterring the Assad regime from using (chlorine) barrel bomb attacks.
* The US government rejects the idea of a no-fly zone as it currently wants to avoid the risk of a direct military confrontation with the Syrian regime.
* The withholding of chlorine for water purification and routine vaccination purposes in opposition-held areas, caused a public health catastrophe with regional and global repercussions.
On June 17, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a public hearing titled ‘Assad’s abhorrent chemical weapon attacks.’ Several witnesses were heard on the consequences of the civilian and military use of chlorine in Syria and presented suggestions for effective countermeasures.
In the period of March 16 to June 9 of this year, a total of 23 air raids have been recorded in which a total of 46 chlorine barrel bomb were dropped in the province of Idlib, with over 500 Syrians affected by exposure and ten deaths from suffocation. A complete list of the attacks was presented which indicated that most attacks happened during the night or in the early morning when the temperatures are low enough to prevent the chlorine from evaporating quickly. An analysis of the location of the attacks indicates that they are not directed against Daesh but mainly on the civilian population in opposition-held areas. The bombs were dropped in civilian areas and hit houses, town centers and residential areas. The attacks can be seen as a form of collective punishment by the government. Compared to conventional barrel bomb attacks the chlorine barrel bombs have caused relative few fatalities. They do, however, have a severe psychological impact on the population and the fear and confusion caused massive displacement in the province of Idlib.
Hospitals and ambulances in non-government controlled areas have been an important target of government attacks. Field hospitals are repeatedly hit and since the beginning of the conflict over 624 health workers were killed. Pledges were made for an increase in effective assistance designed to protect hospitals and medical facilities. Suggestions were made to allocate part of the international assistance to the reinforcing and rebuilding of secure underground hospitals.
The initiation of a no-fly zone is seen as an effective means to prevent the Assad regime from using the tactic of the (chlorine) barrel bombs dropped by regime helicopters. A no-fly zone would also help to create a safe haven for civilians. It was argued that the initiation of a no-fly zone can be done militarily without any problems, but it is largely a matter of political will, and that is currently lacking. The US mistakenly views barrel bombs as fighting weapons and not as weapons intended for destroying the civilian infrastructure. It was argued that by changing its view the US could easily stop the barrel bombs and protect civilians without impeding the effort to fight Daesh.
Another way of causing deaths among the civilian population is by denying public health measures to politically unsympathetic areas in the country, including civilian chlorine for the purification of drinking water and routine childhood vaccination. The lack of access to purified water has contributed to the development and spread of polio, typhoid, hepatitis and other contagious diseases in areas controlled by the opposition. It can be argued that the systematic withholding of the primary means to disinfect water can be considered as a form of biological warfare, because of the devastating public health consequences. The Syrian regime has transformed a principal element of public health into a tool of disease and terror. The deprivation is most clearly visible in Hama, Deir Ezzor, Raqqa and Dara’a, areas that are outside of government control. The consequences are magnified by massive displacement. Due to attacks in non-government controlled areas adequate surveillance of highly contagious diseases like polio and cholera has become impossible.
Most of the information presented during the recent hearing was not new as it was presented before to the UN Security Council and other forums. The witnesses made clear that the use of chlorine barrel bomb attacks are a cost-effective method designed to generate maximum fear and terror, even if they cause relative few casualties compared to the use of conventional barrel bomb attacks. The hearing was used to build a case for initiating a no-fly zone in parts of Syria and step up the political pressure on the US government.
Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, and President Obama, are both opposed to the idea of a no-fly zone, as it would increase the risk of a direct military confrontation with the Syrian regime, something they currently don’t want. The IBC Threat Assessment of last month mentioned that the US wants to wait for the outcome of diplomatic talks and a report by the UN envoy for Syria later this month. Probably the US government also first wants to see results of its train & equip program of the Syrian opposition. But as long as the Syrian regime is not really deterred, it is expected to continue the use of (chlorine) barrel bomb attacks. Deterrence requires that the Syrian government really suffer material setbacks.
The UN Security Council has discussed the terms of an international investigation of the chlorine barrel bomb attacks in Syria. If Syrian government responsibility can be determined this would probably result in new international sanctions against the regime. The Russian suspension of helicopter and aircraft parts would be very painful to the regime and would demonstrate the cost of using chemical weapons.
Severe outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) in South Korea still not under full control after more than one month
* A severe outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona virus (MERS-Cov) in South Korea has resulted in more than 181 confirmed infections and caused thirty-one fatalities.
* Due to failing medical judgment and an ineffective government response the MERS-CoV virus spread to more than 90 health care facilities of which two had to be temporarily closed.
* Besides a severe loss in trust of the government in dealing with crisis situations, the MERS-CoV outbreak will have a significant negative impact on the national economy.
On May 4, a 68 year-old South Korean man, active in farming-related business, returned from a trip to the Middle East. Although he had not been sick during his travels to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar, he was diagnosed on May 20 as having the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV). As he became sick a week after his return, he sought treatment at two clinics and two hospitals, creating multiple opportunities for exposure among health care workers. He spread the virus to 36 other people before he was correctly diagnosed.
At first the MERS-CoV virus was not suspected and patient zero was not treated in isolation. The government was forced to close the hospitals where he was treated. As a result the virus affected more than 181 people and led to thrty-one fatalities. Eighty-one patients fully recovered and thirteen are still in critical condition. (as of June 25). A total of more than 13,000 people had to be placed under quarantine orders. Almost 800 were kept in government-designated quarantine facilities, while the remaining number were ordered to stay at home and avoid contact with others. The government was unable to control so many people and several people breached their stay-at-home order.
One infected person who violated quarantine rules travelled via Hong Kong to Guangdong province in China. Hong Kong and Chinese authorities had to trace all the other passengers the infected person had contacted and place them under quarantine. The Chinese health care authorities were able to isolate the case and prevent a further spreading of the virus.
The South Korean government officially apologized for the failing initial response measures. Patient number 14 treated at the Samsung Medical Center spread the virus to more than 80 other persons. Several infected health workers contributed to the spreading of the virus. Patient number 137 refers to an ambulance worker at Samsung Medical Center in Seoul. He worked for nine days and came into contact with over 200 people after showing MERS symptoms. Of the total number of infected people about a fifth were doctors and nurses.
On June 7, the government announced the names of the 24 hospitals where MERS-CoV patients were diagnosed or were treated before their condition was confirmed. The list was later extended to a total of 90 health care facilities, including 18 in Seoul and 16 in surrounding Gyeonggi that were exposed to the virus. Eleven hospitals were designated as ‘ intensively managed medical institutions’ on which the government’s anti-MERS efforts focused. The two hospitals with the highest numbers of infections were temporarily closed. On June 12, the Health Ministry provided a list of 87 ‘safe hospitals’ where patients with respiratory symptoms are completely separated from other patients.
An American and a Dutch research institute jointly analyzed the virus. A gene sequence test of a virus sample collected from the second patient in South Korea showed that it was not a mutation from the strain seen in the Middle East. A mutation would have presented new challenges for disease control.
The MERS-CoV outbreak in South Korea triggered a joint investigation with the World Health Organization (WHO) that started its work on June 9. A crisis meeting was held on June 16 and on June 17 the WHO issued a public statement on the findings of the joint mission. The five main factors contributing to the spread of the MERS-CoV virus in South Korea were the following:
– Lack of awareness among healthcare workers and general public about MERS;
– Sub-optimal infection prevention and central measures in hospitals;
– Close and prolonged contact of infected MERS patients in crowded emergency rooms and multi-bed rooms in hospitals;
– The practice of seeking care at multiple hospitals (‘doctor shopping’);
– The custom of many visitors or family members staying with infected patients in the hospital rooms facilitating secondary spread of infections among contacts.
As the outbreak caused tertiary and quartenary infections there are still questions whether the outbreak is under control. The South Korean government and the WHO maintain that the virus did not spread into the community. The government is however still investigating when and where a 35 year-old MERS patient from Pyeongtaek Gyeonggi had caught the virus. This is considered crucial to ruling out the possibility of the virus having already spread to the general public.
MERS was first discovered in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and has since then spread to 26 countries, mostly via international air travel. The virus has now been circulating in humans for three years. International cases have largely been confined to travelers bringing the virus back to other countries and infecting one or two others, mainly in health care facilities. The virus spreads from close contact with ill people and has a fatality rate of about 40 percent. In critically ill MERS-CoV patients, the median time from onset to death is about twelve days. People who died often had underlying medical conditions that made them more vulnerable. MERS-CoV has only limited human transmission and is not airborne. On average one MERS-CoV case will lead to 0.6 to 0.7 secondary cases. Camels are suspected to be the primary source of infection for humans although their exact role in the spread of the disease is not fully understood. Recent research indicates that camels less than four years old might be a major source of MERS-CoV. Bats have also been identified as a likely native reservoir for the virus.
The MERS-Cov emergency committee of the WHO had warned in September 2014 that transmission could be seasonal and that a surge could be expected in the spring of 2015. In February 2015, the WHO had called for action over a surge of new infections in Saudi Arabia. The organization concluded that a rise of new cases could be related to failing implementation of control measures in health care facilities. Saudi Arabia has been criticized of obscuring information about the outbreak. The Saudi government has repeatedly denied offers of help and assistance since 2012. In 2013, it was criticized of failing to share virus samples with WHO-affiliated laboratories, and thereby delaying the ability of scientists to research the virus and attempt to discover effective treatments. In a regional update the WHO recorded 212 cases with 95 deaths from January 1 to June 15 of this year. Saudi Arabia accounted for 201 cases, with four in the United Arab Emirates, three in Qatar, three in Oman and one in Iran. The most recent outbreak in Hofuf in Saudi Arabia, included 31 cases and 14 deaths. Two hospitals are involved that have not been identified.
The South Korean Health Ministry expected the number of infections to decrease from June 10 on and expects to be able to say by the end of June whether the outbreak has been brought fully under control. The WHO statement (of June 17) concluded that there was no evidence of sustained community transmission. The conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern had not been met. The WHO did not recommend the application of any travel or trade restrictions and considered screening at points of entry to be unnecessary. There are, however, still reports about tertiary and quarternary cases of infection, suggesting that there still is a risk that the virus is spreading in the local community. As a rule an outbreak can be declared contained about 28 days (twice the incubation period) after the latest confirmed case. As new cases are still reported daily, containment can be declared at its earliest in late July or early August.
The MERS-CoV outbreak in South Korea is widely seen as an important wakeup call for the whole world. All countries should always be prepared for the unanticipated possibility of outbreaks of MERS-CoV and other serious infectious diseases. The South Korean outbreak emphasized the need to strengthen collaboration between the health care system and other key sectors, such as aviation, and to enhance communication processes. One important lesson is that travel histories should become mandatory for people with respiratory symptoms seeking medical care.
Due to the public panic in the early stages of the outbreak and the lack of relevant government information, fewer people sought treatment for their ailments in hospitals. This may have contributed to a worsening of the public health situation. The South Korean government also took unnecessary measures to compensate for its initial failing response, causing even more panic, like the closure of many schools. Nearly nine out of ten Koreans think that information from the government on MERS-CoV is not transparent and prompt enough. While trust in the government is a critical factor in stemming outbreaks of infectious diseases, the South Korean government has clearly failed in the case of the recent MERS-CoV outbreak and it should be an important lesson for other governments.
The outbreak of MERS-CoV in South Korea has led to a concern about a possible outbreak in neighboring North Korea. An estimated 50,000 North Korean workers are active in the Middle East and could bring the virus to their home country that is not very well equipped to deal with a significant outbreak. The South Korean government has indicated that it is willing to share equipment with the North, in case of a serious outbreak. Other Asian countries with large number of guest workers in the Middle East have also raised their alert levels and started airport screening of returning travellers from the Middle East.
There has been speculation that the virus could go global later this year when the annual haj to the holy places in Saudi Arabia begins in September. This has not happened in the previous years although there have been incidental cases that were quickly contained in hospitals. As long as the virus doesn’t mutate, virologists are expected to be on top of it. Constant monitoring of the virus will be necessary. In the past weeks confirmed cases were reported in China, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Germany.
Nearly three years after MERS-CoV was first identified there are still fundamental gaps in the understanding of the virus. It is unclear whether persons carrying the virus but not showing the symptoms, can transmit it. It is also unknown which environmental factors contribute to a speeding of the transmission of the virus. The WHO has been criticized for not doing more to develop a camel vaccine to stop transmission from young camels to humans. If that transmission is not stopped other uncontrollable outbreaks will become more likely in locations with insufficient healthcare systems.
The de-commissioning of the Chernobyl nuclear plant and safety upgrades of other reactors in Ukraine is highly dependent on international financial support
* A beginning has been made with the complete de-commissioning of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, including the construction of a new sarcophagus for unit 4.
* The granting of a life-extension to an aging nuclear reactor based on flawed assessment has renewed concerns about possible nuclear emergencies.
* The ongoing military operations in Donbass raised concerns about the security of nuclear reactors in the area.
The State Inspectorate for Nuclear Regulation in Ukraine ordered the complete decommissioning of Units 1, 2 and 3 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Unit 4 exploded in 1986. Units 2, 1 and 3 were put off the line in 1991, 1996 and 2000 respectively. They will now be brought into a ‘conserved state’ in several stages. In the vicinity of the plant construction of a Vector complex is underway that is specifically designed for the disposal of nuclear fuel. Removal of uncontaminated equipment has begun at unit 1 and this work can be completed by 2020-2022.
In order to clean up the plant a new sarcophagus has to be constructed for unit 4 that will be completed in November 2017. The total costs of the repair and safety work at the site is estimated at 2.1 billion euro. Funds are expected to come from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Commission, the G7 countries and non-G7 countries. In April, the Ukrainian parliament had complained about underfunding of the project. Since the complaint sufficient money has been pledged to continue with the project.
In early June, the project ‘ Assessment of Environmental Risk in the Exclusion Zone along the Ukraine and Belarussian Borders’ presented the jointly produced maps of radioactive contamination along the border of the two countries. The project also developed regulations for personnel radiation safety. In the upcoming period the project will focus on the danger of forest fires in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Last April, a large forest fire in the exclusion zone had raised alarm about the possible dispersal of amounts of the original radiation contamination. After the alarm the fire was quickly brought under control. Simulations of earlier forest fires had indicated that the smoke of fires could de-disperse a significant amount of the radiation of the original disaster. The high temperatures and volumes of smoke in a forest fire can take contaminants hundreds of kilometers away from the exclusion zone.
In June, a new UK funded repository for radioactive waste opened in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The repository is intended for radioactive waste from all over Ukraine and will be stored according to international standards for radiation safety and security.
Three of Ukraine’s nuclear power units are currently operating beyond their design timeline, with nine others set to reach the end of their intended lifetime within the next five years. This means that Ukraine’s inspectorate has to make decisions about possible life-extensions of the power plants. Recent life-extensions granted by Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate have been criticized, as they were reportedly based on flawed assessments. Critics found dangerous vulnerabilities exceeding intolerable levels and have warned of nuclear emergencies.
Environmentalists have raised concern about the storage of more than 30,000 spent nuclear fuel rods in the open air in metal casks close to the perimeter fence of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. According to safety regulations the nuclear waste should have a secondary containment structure, such as a building with a roof. There are constant worries that the ongoing military operations may get closer and negatively affect the operations of the nuclear power plant.
In mid-June there was a concern about the possibility of radioactive materials leaking from a storage site in the Donetsk area. It was assumed that an explosion at a chemical plant possibly had triggered the detonation of underground ammunition depots resulting in damage at the radiation storage site. The OSCE has been called in to monitor the radiation background in the area.
As the conflict in Donbass had a negative impact on the supply of gas, Ukraine has become more reliant on its 15 Soviet-era nuclear reactors for its electricity supply. Nuclear energy is an area where Ukraine and Russia still cooperate. Ukraine depends almost entirely on Russia’s ROSATOM for enriched uranium. Plans to reduce this strategic vulnerability by diversifying its supply have progressed only slowly.
The need of nuclear energy creates difficult dilemmas for Ukraine. With the ongoing military operations in Donbass and a faltering economy, the government is forced to grant life-extensions to nuclear reactors that actually have become unsuitable for continued operation, thereby creating situations that could result in nuclear emergencies. Due to the faltering economy the country has become almost entirely reliant on foreign funding for the Chernobyl de-commissioning projects and safety upgrades for other reactors. Only after the alarm was raised in parliament sufficient funds came forward for the Chernobyl sarcophagus project that allowed it to continue.
As military operations continue in Donbass and frontlines get closed to reactor sites it can not be excluded that they may negatively impact the operation of nuclear reactors. If rockets can hit chemical plants it must be assumed that they also can hit nuclear plants. The recent forest fire in the Chernobyl exclusion zone illustrates that also natural disasters may create new radiological emergencies in Ukraine with cross border consequences.
The United States and Russia are taking steps that may result in a new East-West confrontation in Europe
* In response to the war in Ukraine the United States and Russia have taken steps that may trigger a new Cold War despite official denials.
* Europe could become once again the setting of a new East-West confrontation.
* Reviving a forum for dialogue could be a way to sidestep from the current inflamed atmosphere and start talking and find solutions for perceived problems.
After accusing Russia repeatedly of violating the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) treaty the United States announced that this cannot go unanswered and that it may station nuclear equipped cruise missiles in Europe. In response to the American plans, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia will add forty nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles to its arsenal. This as widely interpreted as a threat but nuclear experts state that it is in line with the START agreement. Russia is in the process of replacing an older generation of missiles and after the replacement the total number will be below the threshold agreed upon in the START agreement. Russia has chosen to reduce its total number of missiles but will pack more warheads on each missile. The replacement process will be finished by 2022.
Some see the recent statements by Putin as a form of ‘passive aggressive behavior’, meaning that they are mainly made for their effect on an opponent but have no real substance. Russia does, however, have a point when it comes to American preparations for a military attack on Russia. American diplomatic cables made public by Wikileaks several years ago, showed American diplomats at NATO were instructed to keep silent about an attack plan and not to discuss it in public. They were also instructed not to mention Russia as a potential target and just talk about a ‘generic plan’ to move troops to the Baltics.
Russia sees the American plans as further proof that Washington intends to expand its military sphere of influence in Europe. The US, on the other hand, sees Russian destabilization efforts in Europe as a way to expand the Russian sphere of influence.
The American accusations related to the INF are based on Russian tests of the R-500 cruise missile and the RS-26 or Rubezh ballistic missile. The United States believes that both weapons have been tested in a manner that violates the INF treaty although it never presented any evidence for its claims. European experts doubt whether the American claims can be substantiated. Others have argued that the whole treaty has become worthless for Russia, as NATO planes can reach St. Petersburg in five minutes from Estonia, and NATO warships are cruising around in the Baltic Sea and Black Sea.
To counter a perceived Russian threat to the Baltics NATO has decided to beef up its position in Eastern Europe and adapt its military strategy and planning. A series of planned military exercises in the coming months are intended to demonstrate NATO’s readiness and determination and emphasize its reorientation.
Last February, NATO announced that it would set up six new command units in Eastern Europe and will create a rapid reaction force. On June 24, NATO ministers decided to extend the rapid reaction force from 13,000 to 40,000 troops. Part of it is the 5,000-men strong Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) consisting of Dutch, German and Norwegian troops. The US will support the VJTF with US special forces and logistical, artillery and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
At the meeting in Brussels NATO ministers also took measures to speed up political and military decision-making. They gave NATO’s SACEUR the authority to prepare troops for action as soon as a political decision is made. The NATO ministers also approved a new concept for advanced planning.
The Pentagon plans to preposition heavy American Abram battle tanks, Bradley infantry vehicles and self-propelled howitzers in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. In response to the American prepositioning of military hardware, Russia may deploy additional Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile systems in Kaliningrad.
Germany has ruled out the substantial or permanent stationing of NATO troops in the former Eastern bloc, as this would undermine the Founding Act that was signed with Russia, with the aim to build a ‘lasting and inclusive peace.’ To circumvent European opposition to the prepositioning plans the Americans have invented the term ‘ rotational presence’, meaning that the military equipment is only for training purposes. The hardware will be placed without crews and personnel and will be rotated in and out as needed. It is assumed that the lighter and more agile military footprint would be better suited to deal with the hybrid warfare that has become part of the Russian doctrine since 2013.
During a visit to Germany on June 22, Ashton Carter, the American minister of Defense, took the opportunity to call on NATO member states to increase their military spending and called on Germany to show greater responsibility in the world. He also emphasized that NATO will defend its allies and the rule-based international order.
At the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw a confidential assessment of the risk of Russian destabilization of the Baltics will be presented. The potential for a Russian attack has implicitly been the focus of much of the current and upcoming training and planning exercises. The summit in Warsaw will also be used to discuss further adjustments to NATO forces and will revisit NATO’s military strategy and planning. In the framework of what is called hybrid warfare it is assumed that any possible Russian attack will coincide with cyber attacks and intense information warfare, causing additional challenges for decision-makers.
On June 22, the EU decided to extend its sanctions against Russia to January 31, 2016. Although it is assumed that the sanctions may change Russia’s calculus, Russia immediately extended its export ban on Western food products with another year. It also considers to add more products to the current list of banned products.
On June 25, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama had a telephone conversation and discussed pressing international security issues, including the implementation of the Minsk agreement, the counterterrorism campaign against Daesh, the current situation in Syria and the ongoing negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program.
In the current inflamed atmosphere the risk of one side losing its nerves increases. With the tit-for-tat deployments, the prepositioning of more military hardware, and an increasing number of military exercises, accidents are likely to happen. Miscalculation increases the risk of unwanted military escalation.
To put a brake on the current escalatory developments a suitable forum for dialogue could be created. Such a forum could be used to discuss perceived problems and find solutions that satisfy both sides. The NATO-Russia Council has been mentioned as a good candidate and could possibly be revived. It could become a place to find common language on a series of topics where both sides have common interests.
There are different interpretations of the Russian sabre-rattling. While American experts seem to have little doubt about Russia’s intentions, some European experts tend to view Putin’s announcements as a sign of weakness. They argue that Russia does not have sufficient conventional weapons to counter NATO forces. It therefore wishes to rely to a greater degree on nuclear deterrence, to compensate for the imbalance in conventional forces.
American officials hold the view of many Europeans as naïve. They are convinced Vladimir Putin is not going to change his position and that NATO will be in this for the long haul. Russia, however, has good reasons to be concerned about American intentions, as the diplomatic cables to NATO diplomats several years ago have shown. They were instructed to keep an attack plan from the public debate and to avoid mentioning Russia as a potential target. The outcome of the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw will indicate whether the Americans have been able to persuade sufficient European allies to support its plans directed against Russia.
Experiments with hybrid warfare, including new types of cyber attacks and intense levels of information warfare, will confront decision-makers with situations they have not dealt with before and for which existing protocols have no ready made answers. In such a climate with higher levels of uncertainty the risk of unfortunate and wrong decisions is likely to increase.
More effective C-IED strategies require improved date collection and information-sharing about worsening IED problem
* The data collection and advocacy efforts of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) present a good model that can be copied elsewhere to develop more effective C-IED strategies.
* Recent discoveries of large quantities of IED precursor chemicals in several countries emphasize the continued need for the identification of smuggling networks, as is being done by the Global Shield project.
* The US Joint Improvised Explosive Device and Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) has been realigned to make it a more effective combat support agency and capable of adapting to changing IED threat environments.
Over the last few years the significance of IED attacks has increased. They have become a signature weapon against American and coalition military forces and have taken an increasingly deadly toll on civilians. According to several databases, the frequency of IED attacks has increased over the last few years. As the IEDs have become more powerful they kill more people. Over the last few years they have also been used more in populated areas killing more civilians, especially in crowded places such as markets, cafes and mosques. The number of suicide attacks has increased over the last years. Suicide attacks have shown to be almost five times as lethal as non-suicidal attacks. Finally, the number of complex attacks rose, meaning attacks by multiple units on hard targets by using a combination of tactics, including suicide bombers.
According to the latest US Country Reports on Terrorism 2014 the number of terrorist incidents has increased to a total of 13,500 attacks in 2014, causing 32,700 deaths and 34,700 injured. The majority of these incidents were IED attacks.
Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) monitors specifically IED attacks and publishes annual reports. During the period of 2011 to 2013, it recorded more than 60,000 deaths and injuries from IED incidents. Civilians represented 81 percent of the casualties. IED attacks affected 66 different countries and territories. In the year 2013 about 62 percent of the IED incidents took place in populated areas. Where IED attacks occurred in populated areas, 91 percent of the casualties were civilians.
The need for better collection and dissemination of data on IEDs was recognized during a 2014 Chatham House Round Table of experts. The underlying assumption is that by understanding the extent of the harm caused by IEDs, greater steps can be taken to develop more effective C-IED strategies.
The AOAV has attempted to increase the understanding of IED incidents by analyzing how data are collected and disseminated. Of a total of about 50 organizations collecting data on IED incidents, 18 were selected for a more detailed analysis of their methodological approaches.
The following organizations were included in the analysis:
-Action on Armed Violence (AOAV)
-International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR)
-International Institute for Counterterrorism (ICT)
-Global Terrorism Database (GTD)
-European Strategic Intelligence and Security center (ESISC)
-Insecurity Insights, Security in Numbers Database (SIND)
-Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism Suicide Attack Database (CPOST)
-South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP)
-Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED)
-Iraqi Body Count (IBC)
-Syria Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)
-Center for Documentation and Violence in Syria (VDC Syria)
-The Global Database of Events Language and Tone (GDELT)
-European Union Bomb Data System (EBDS)
-Bomb Arson Tracking System (BATS)
-National Bomb Database (NBD)
-United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
The AOAV evaluation of the different methodological approaches used by the organizations listed above, shows that there are a number of important limitations in their data collection efforts. The data collectors don’t use a standard definition of terrorism. Incidents are categorized differently and there is sometimes no breakdown to weapon category. Low casualty incidents in remote regions of the world have a low chance of being reported in English-language media. Finally, many collectors use geographical limitations and focus just on one specific country or region. The different methodologies and focus complicate systematic comparisons.
In its analysis AOAV presented a more detailed analysis of the exemplary work of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) that can serve as a model to be copied by other organizations, especially its combination of data collection and advocacy efforts. AOAV describes how UNAMA learned from its own shortcomings and how its work is now used to develop effective C-IED strategies. By engaging the Taliban with its reports UNAMA succeeded in persuading the Taliban leadership to call on their fighters to minimize civilian casualties. In 2013, the Taliban claimed it had established its own data and evaluation gathering ‘special committee’ under its military commission, intended to document civilian harm arising from Taliban actions, including their continuing use of IEDs.
Part of an effective C-IED strategy is the reduction of the possibilities for terrorist organizations to lay their hands on bomb-making materials. Project Global Shield is a multilateral law enforcement effort to eliminate the illicit cross-border diversion and trafficking of precursor chemicals used by terrorists and other criminal organizations to manufacture improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by monitoring their cross-border movements. It was conceptualized by ICE in 2010 and is currently being led by the World Customs Organization (WCO) along with Interpol and the UNODC. In 2011, the pilot project became a long-term program. The three mission goals of the project are the following:
– To identify and interdict falsely declared explosive precursor chemicals;
– To initiate investigations of smuggled or illegally diverted IED materials;
– To uncover the smuggling and procurement networks that foster illicit trade.
Over the years large quantities of solid and fluid chemicals were seized and several dozen suspects were arrested. A total of fourteen chemicals are monitored, including: ammonium nitrate, acetic anhydride, acetone, urea, aluminum powder and flakes, hydrogen peroxide, nitric acid, potassium chlorate, potassium nitrate, potassium perchlorate, sodium chlorate, sodium nitrate, and calcium ammonium nitrate.
There are regular media reports on the discovery of bomb-making and storage facilities for IED precursor chemicals. The following listing is a small sample of the past month:
The Turkish town of Akcakale near the Syrian border reportedly has become an important hub for ammonium nitrate going into Syria to the town of Tal Abyad that was under control of Daesh. The organization relies on this bomb-making material for the car bombs it uses in its military offensives against the Syrian and Iraqi armies. In its recent offensives (e.g in Ramadi) the organization has made use of the tactic of powerful multiple car bomb attacks with devastating effects. In the first half of June the Kurdish YPG supported by the international coalition was able to capture the town of Tal Abyad, effectively cutting off an important supply route for Daesh.
In the last week of May almost two tons of ammonium nitrate were discovered in the basement of an apartment in a residential area in the city of Larnaca on Cyprus. The apartment served as a safe house for Hezbollah. The police is investigating the case and is working on the assumption that the explosive materials were intended for a future attack on the Israeli embassy on the island or Israeli tourists. A 26-year-old man with dual Lebanese Canadian citizenship was arrested in the case.
In early June a special task force discovered two underground laboratories in private houses in Dagestan. A total of 300 kg of bomb-making components, detonators, fuses and a laptop computer with detailed maps were found in the storage sites. There was ammonium and seven 80 liter plastic containers filled with explosives with a total capacity of 200 kg of TNT.
In early June an explosives cache was discovered in the village of Dar Kulaib near Manama in Bahrain. The cache was hidden behind a wall of a warehouse, and included C4 explosives, commercial detonators, advanced circuitry, chemicals and mobile phones. The cache reportedly was linked to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) cell and was intended for future terrorist attacks in Bahrain and/or Saudi Arabia.
During a counterterrorism raid on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines in June, an explosives cache was discovered in a house related to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). The cache included a liquefied petroleum gas tank, ammonium nitrate, nails and other shrapnel, improvised blasting caps, electric wire and an IED.
During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the US established the Joint Improvised Explosive Device and Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). The organization tracks IEDs around the world and in the twelve months until April 2015, it counted 26,000 incidents causing 55,000 casualties. In last March, approval was given for a realignment of the organization. It will make a transition from a jointly manned activity to a combat support agency under the authority, direction and control of the undersecretary of defense and for acquisition, technology and logistics.
JIEDDO tries to connect a variety of IED experts early within deploying units’ training cycles, so warfighters are knowledgeable of terrorist networks and the types of battlefield support the combat support agency will provide them. The experts (including intelligence analysts, operational experts and combat advisers) embed with the US forces from the start of employments.
The shift of the use of IEDs to populated areas is causing problems for counter-IED efforts. Stopping IEDs in crowded cities causes a more complicated set of choices. For instance, the jamming equipment used by military forces does also have an impact on ordinary phones, laptops and other devices that rely on electronic signals.
Terrorist organizations active in armed conflicts all over the world are using IEDs in greater numbers. They are innovative and share information within terrorist networks. Successful designs are quickly proliferating from one battlefield to the other. The IEDs have become more powerful and are used in more advanced tactics. In recent years they have been used more frequently in populated areas with the specific aim of causing a maximum number of civilian casualties. Practical policies to disrupt access to IED materials and bomb-making knowledge need to be implemented nationally and internationally. It would help if interested organizations share data as fully as possible.
Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) reports contribute to a better understanding of the scale of the worsening IED problem and are a vital step towards reducing the harm caused by IEDs. One of its recent reports shows how important lessons can be learned from the data collection and advocacy work of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Data collection can be used to raise public awareness about the severity of the IED issue. It can also emphasize the need for increased resources to counter IED efforts. And finally the public reporting about the use of IEDs and their consequences can be used to encourage terrorist organizations to change the way they use IEDs to harm fewer civilians. The UNAMA way of operating is a useful model that could be copied elsewhere. The organization learned from its own shortcomings and now challenges the use of IEDs and holds users accountable. UNAMA’s work has also become a critical element in the development of C-IED strategies.
Organizations like Global Shield and JIEDDO are intended to disrupt supply lines, identify international smuggling networks and allow military organizations to adapt to changing threat environments. As the IED problem is worsening and becoming more lethal, they are needed more than ever before to save lives.