Addressing the threat posed by IEDs

International C-IED initiatives

“Ultimately, the impact of any approaches to counter the IED threat will be of limited effect without a comprehensive international approach to disrupt the networks and enablers.”[i]

There has been increasing demand for action within the international community concerning the growing IED threat and the terrorist network that enables it. In recognition of this, the Government of Afghanistan proposed a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly and in December 2015, resolution 70/46 titled “Countering the threat posed by improvised explosive devices” was adopted. The resolution encouraged states to not only adopt their own national policy to C-IED but also urged state “measures to support international and regional efforts”, as well as enhance their “international and regional cooperation, including the sharing of information on good practices”.[ii]

The reason Afghanistan put forward the resolution to the UN was to foster an international holistic effort to confront the root causes of IED harm. The Afghanistan Ambassador to the United Nations, in an interview highlighted later in this report, emphasised the importance of not just international cooperation, but also of multilateral collaboration where non-state actors, such as civil society and private industry have a C-IED role to play.[iii]

It is a nuanced critique that may be levelled at a number of international C-IED initiatives. Until we see a unified global C-IED effort with a focus on information sharing, like that encouraged by Afghanistan, the networks using IEDs will remain difficult to defeat.

 International Bomb Data Center Working Group

Many efforts remain limited because states put too much focus on particular C-IED actors and approaches, such as military or police. For example, the International Bomb Data Center Working Group (IBDCWG), formed in 2005, engages over 40 member nations from across the globe, 12 nations who participate with observer status, and four observing organisations. They partake in information sharing at conferences and through an online portal that also facilitates encrypted chat between the members. However, members of the IBDCWG must be government agencies responsible for the management of technical intelligence and information related to the unlawful use of explosives – except for the four exceptions – this means a great deal of valuable knowledge from non-state C-IED actors is not shared in this forum. Furthermore, many of the most impacted nations from IEDs and top explosive importers and exporters are not involved in this project.

Throughout the international C-IED community it is steadily being recognised that a variety of groups need to engage and slowly C-IED efforts are seeing diverse actors cooperating internationally.

 AXON Global IED Partnership

The AXON Global IED Partnership started as a trial in 2014 on the initiative of the Australian Defence Force. It sought to “share unclassified raw IED event data and collaborate on common issues globally across jurisdictions employing a common language”. Principally, it engaged some of the most important state and international C-IED actors, allowing them equal access to shared information over a secure web portal and an avenue for greater cooperation. AXON demonstrated that states and international actors can strike a balance in sharing information on such sensitive areas. Despite this success, the Project Manager, Major Simon Patching, indicated to AOAV how much work still needs to be done to see information sharing of this type flourish, as the default position too often sees all IED event data protected.

AXON’s engagement of both state and international actors was commendable, but involvement of an even greater range of actors is still necessary. Engaging state officials and international institutions alone leaves crucial avenues of information untapped, mostly those within civil society and businesses.

Programme Global Shield

A programme that seeks to encompass some of these overlooked areas is PGS. PGS was developed in 2010 by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) in cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL). It aims to “counter the illicit diversion and trafficking of explosive precursor chemicals and might be used to manufacture IEDs”. The programme’s four avenues of action are training, practical support, intelligence sharing and industry outreach.

PGS have had to overcome challenges to information sharing such as the lack of political will and engaging with those who do not have the legal authority to share identifying data. Mr Leigh Winchell, the Deputy Director of Compliance and Enforcement at the WCO, also identified cooperation as a challenge but also as the key to progress. In response to this challenge, they have specifically tried to overcome distrust between partners through operational coordination meetings focused on building trust and fostering greater cooperation between all actors in the region. Their specific focus is on building trust between customs and law enforcement. It is hoped this will encourage further investigations into seizures, which means that those supplying and buying the chemicals can be held accountable.

Despite the challenges, the scale of the information sharing and those involved with PGS was unprecedented, and has seen growing partnership between industry and customs. In particular, the engagement with industry has had a large impact and seen the chemical suppliers develop mechanisms to validate customers, report suspicious activity and report lost or stolen goods. Industry cooperation with customs and law enforcement has led to greater success with seizures of chemical IED materials, as well as complete IEDs and other IED materials such as detonators, alongside the legal trade in the chemicals.

Within this spirit of cooperation, the WCO have fostered important relationships with other C-IED actors to strengthen the impact of their work. These actors include other law enforcement orientated actors such as INTERPOL, as well as NGOs who assist with providing data and awareness raising.

Although PGS has a global reach with the involvement of over 90 countries, they are currently focused on the Central Asian region. This means their awareness raising seminars and training are limited to these countries. They are seeking to expand to the North Africa region as well, a region that would highly benefit from such efforts, but this is reliant on donor funding. The WCO also operate other C-IED programs based on similar cooperative initiatives, such as the Container Control Programme and Strategic Trade Control Enforcement Project.


In a similar respect much progress has been made through the development of these older organisations. An actor that has been leading the way in C-IED is INTERPOL, an intergovernmental organisation, established in 1923, which facilitates international police cooperation. With 190 member countries, it is the world’s largest international police organisation, with the role of enabling “police around the world to work together to make the world a safer place”. CBRNE terrorism prevention has been a top priority in INTERPOL and a vital aspect of this is collecting and sharing information. The Chase Programme focuses on precursor materials used to make IEDs and engages not just police but also border forces, customs, immigration and security agencies in a collaborative effort, whilst also providing training to increase C-IED capabilities and expanding their information exchange network.

INTERPOL’s Chemical and Explosive Countermeasures Programme, aimed at law enforcement, government bodies and chemical industry partners, also seeks to facilitate cooperation with all sections of the chemical industry. This enables the early detection of those seeking to acquire chemicals for IED prior to attacks. What makes INTERPOL successful is its highly collaborative nature and its recognition of the key role of private industry in C-IED.

As well as encouraging member states to share information, Interpol itself cooperates with a number of international organisations. Such organisations include Europol, the World Customs Organisation, EU CBRN Centres of Excellence, and UN agencies including the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute.

INTERPOL has previously demonstrated impressive leadership in bringing together parties to combat IED networks. However, there has been some uncertainty regarding the extent of the organisation’s ongoing engagement.  It is hoped that INTERPOL’s expertise in addressing the criminal spread of IED usage continues to build on its past strengths. INTERPOL demonstrates the ability and the necessity to cooperate with all C-IED actors to address the threat effectively.

Global Coalition to Counter ISIL

The Global Coalition to Counter ISIL is made up of over 60 state members all with the express task of defeating IS. Each state contributes military forces or resources, or both, as part of the initiative.

Some countries, particularly those in the West, such as the US, UK and France, carry out military efforts such as airstrikes to combat IS in Iraq and Syria or training. These states also include strong military powers in the Middle East like Jordan. Operation Inherent Resolve makes up the military component of the coalition. Some states chose to only operate in either Iraq or Syria, due to a number of varying reasons, such as capacity, location, or affiliations. The Building Partner Capacity (BPC) training in Iraq was designed to train Iraqi Army and Peshmerga units in various tactical subjects to include C-IED, an area both requested training in. Many of the BPC initiatives have focused on training, but have also seen provision of C-IED equipment for Iraqi forces. This engagement has seen a considerable improvement in military and police C-IED capabilities across Iraq.

Others states, such as Cyprus and Jordan, allow Western and other more remote allies to use their bases to conduct training or strikes, as well as aid drops. Israel, though not a part of the Coalition, provides intelligence to assist in the counter ISIL operations. Some Middle East states focus on their own borders whilst remaining a part of the coalition. Other states are engaged through the provision of aid. For example, Japan granted $6 million in emergency aid for displaced people in Northern Iraq.

The Coalition’s Strategic Communications Working Group seeks to counteract the threat of IS’s recruitment and other propaganda efforts. The Stabilisation Working Group addresses the humanitarian crisis left in the wake of IS. The Counter-ISIL Finance Group aims to stop the flow of funding to IS through assisting state efforts to monitor and investigate terrorism financing, alongside other preventative efforts. Lastly, the coalition’s working group on Foreign Terrorist Fighters seeks to stop the flow of terrorist fighters into Iraq and Syria.

INTERPOL has joined the coalition in supporting these efforts – stemming the flow of foreign fighters and finance. It is hoped that INTERPOL’s engagement will encourage greater law enforcement involvement in the Coalition efforts. As it is the civilian and law enforcement efforts that would stem resurgence of IS once military efforts have conducted their tasks.

Over 15,000 air strikes have been conducted by the coalition in Iraq and Syria, and over 30,000 personnel have been providing with training. The flow of foreign terrorist fighters to Syria and Iraq has decreased, whilst many are also leaving the group. IS fighters salaries have seen cuts and their efforts to recruit have diminished. With coalition support, local forces have captured almost 10,000 square kilometres in northeastern Syria and retaken nearly 30,000 square kilometres in Iraq, including key supply routes and other strategic areas. However, it remains difficult to gage the effectiveness of many of the coalition’s approaches, such as the impact on IS’ finances and messaging. The US’ average daily spend on counter-IS military efforts is thought to be approximately $12.3 million.

Global Counterterrorism Forum

The GCTF is an international forum established in September 2011 and compiled of 29 countries and the EU, though many more countries are involved in the GCTF’s work and engage in GCTF efforts.[iv]  The GCTF also works closely with the UN and other international agencies, with whom members hold many meetings and sessions to further their counterterrorism aims. The GCTF brings together counterterrorism experts from a variety of fields, such as police, judges and border control. Through bringing together counterterrorism experts the forum hopes to use the expertise to develop tools, knowledge and strategies to combat the terrorist threat faced today.

These efforts are largely considered counterterrorism but if they work they will significantly reduce the threat of IEDs. Much of this work is preventative, targeting the aspects of society and behaviour that leads to an IED attack or other terrorist event.

The areas that the GCTF has a particular focus on include:

  • Criminal Justice and the Rule of Law
  • Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)
  • Detention and Reintegration
  • Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF)
  • Sahel Region Capacity-Building
  • Horn of Africa Capacity-Building

Each of these areas has its own working group and events to target the particular issue or location.

The Africa-focused working groups focus on these highly impacted locations to address the specific terrorist threats in these locations. This sees the impacted states and other regional bodies engaged in the efforts of the GCTF. The working groups build on the initiatives already operating in the region, such as TSCTP and PREACT, and utilising the shared knowledge and resources to enhance regional effectiveness and reinforce collaboration.

International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT)

The ICT was founded in 1996, and records global terrorist attacks, terrorist organisations and activists in addition to statistical reports. Its “Incidents and Activists Database” is a comprehensive survey of open sources of intelligence, and is “one of the most all-encompassing non-governmental resources on terrorist incidents in the world.” The database has recorded over 33,000 terrorist incidents since 1975, including information on successful terrorist attacks, foiled attacks, and counter-terror operations. It also includes background and follow-up information.

A monthly report is published by the ICT, providing a summary and analysis of terrorist attacks and counter-terrorism operations, and an annual report is released.

The ICT database includes information on suicide attacks and bombings, including IED attacks. The aim of the report, as stated by the ICT, is to identify patterns and trends of world- wide terrorist activity, which includes the scale and impact of IEDs. The report includes details of casualty figures, perpetrators, targets, organisations associated with each attack, sources of funding, and weapons used.

ICT’s global framing is broken down into regions and countries, and focuses on the most significant incidents. The ICT is an academic institute and relies solely on private donations and revenue from events, projects and programs. The ICT reports do not mention a particular methodology, except for stating that they use open sources. In the reports themselves, incidents are referenced to news reports, but without hyperlinks. For example, an incident may be coded as: “BBC, “British pair who travelled to Syria admit terror charges”, July 8, 2014”.

The data is reported in annual and monthly PDF reports, and no public database is available. This means that the data is not particularly searchable. While the reports include information regarding weapon types used in each attack, there is no way to search for results involving IEDs. Manually reviewing each incident would be required. The reports only record those incidents defined as “terrorist”. This excludes those attacks deemed not to fall under the definition of terrorism. The ICT itself acknowledges that it is an incomplete database, stating in its 2013 report that: “it should be noted that…the ICT database team tends to cover only significant attacks in “hotspot areas”, such as Iraq and Syria, and major incidents with high casualty figures.”

In addition to data collection, ICT is an academic institute and think tank providing expertise in issues such as terrorism and counter-terrorism. It facilitates information sharing by policymakers and academics, and allows the sharing of research papers, situation reports, and academic publication.

ICT highlights the need for a global IED database to ensure IED incidents are monitored effectively, so that trends and patterns may be identified. Currently there is no database monitoring global IED use specifically.

International C-IED Leaders’ Forum

The inaugural International C-IED Leaders’ Forum took place just last year, between 2 and 4 September 2015, in Canberra, Australia, and was hosted by INTERPOL, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Department of Defence. It sought to gather key representatives from various C-IED areas, such as government, law enforcement and military services.

The aim of the Forum was to improve the cooperation between states and the range of C-IED actors. It is hoped that the Forum will provide a platform through which C-IED leaders will engage and partake in information sharing to better target the networks that facilitate IED use. The Forum managed to engage some of the most senior C-IED leaders from states as well as organisations such as the UN and NATO.

The forum’s main focuses are: component controls, capacity building, public awareness and information sharing. It appeared to build on the efforts and lessons of AXON and sought to establish a “whole of government” approach within partner states and work with the information sharing oriented towards the “need to share” principle.

A key outcome of the inaugural Forum, at a multilateral level, was the development and launch of the C-IED Global Alliance Strategy, to combat the global IED threat. The International C-IED Leaders’ Forum recognised the holistic approach needed to confront IEDs through cooperation not just between all C-IED arms within a state but also across states. The Forum promoted both these types of cooperation and emphasised the importance of both aspects for a comprehensive global C-IED approach. It is hoped that the lessons continue to be implemented and a successful holistic approach is adopted which engages all types of C-IED actors.

To see the areas of the published report, see here. To see a list of all the C-IED actors examined as part of the project, please go here. To read the full report, ‘Addressing the threat posed by IEDs: National, Regional and Global Initiatives’, see here. To see those engaged in the Middle East, the Sahel, North Africa or other highly impacted countries please see here, here, here, and here respectively. This research was made possible by funding from the NATO Counter Improvised Explosive Devices Centre of Excellence (C-IED COE) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

[i] ‘COUNTER-IED TECHNOLOGY IN UN PEACEKEEPING: Expanding Capability and Mitigating Risks’, International Peace Institute, April 2015.

[ii] General Assembly resolution 70/46, Countering the threat posed by improvised explosive devices, A/RES/70/46 (11 December 2015), available from

General Assembly resolution 67/97, The rule of law at the national and international levels, A/RES/67/97 (14 December 2012), available from

[iii] Interview transcript.

[iv] The 30 founding members are: Algeria, Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, EU, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, UAE, UK, US.