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A review of international, regional and bilateral initiatives that aim to provide counter-IED assistance

The responses that have been developed to mitigate the harm caused by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are diverse, a diversity essential given the multi-faceted nature of the problem. Those various efforts that seek to mitigate IED harm are, as such, often collated under the broad heading of counter-IED (CIED). Traditional CIED efforts have generally comprised three lines of effort: attack the network, defeat the device and train the force.

Defeat the device and train the force have, for a long time, seen international forces aid other states to improve their CIED capabilities. These response are often reactive ones – targeting the immediate threat, such as IED disposal (IEDD), technology development, and force training.

Unlike other explosive hazards, though, to combat IEDs it is vital to consider the ‘dynamic dimension of the threat, including perpetrators and also its root causes’.[1] CIED must go beyond the necessary task of detecting and destroying IEDs and seek, as well, to target the root of IED harm. In short, as well as being responsive it also needs to be preventative.

Attack the network approaches recognise that though the weapons are ‘improvised’, the groups constructing them often receive substantial financial assistance and have access to expert networks and advanced bomb-making facilities.[2] The largest users of IEDs are internationally connected extremist groups, such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, groups that are affiliated with groups and individuals across the globe.

Attack the network seeks to target the groups, the financers, and the trade in explosive materials that IEDs depend on. These CIED efforts focus on research, intelligence gathering and information sharing. As such, they require high levels of international cooperation and global engagement, engagement that goes beyond what military and law enforcement can often provide – or, at least, are willing to share. A focus on this aspect of CIED also helps states disrupt the sequence of events that lead up to the use of an IED, as well as providing a tactical focus for those engaged in operations on the ground.

The last decade has seen many nations improve their CIED capabilities, particularly within their police, military and other security forces. These national responses however, are weakened unless they are tied into an international approach that mimics the very structures of those terrorist networks that pose the central IED threat.

It is the belief of this paper that, for there to be a properly coordinated response to the global IED threat, police, customs, military, international services, UN bodies, civil society and even cultural representative and influencers need to be brought to the table. Below, this paper seeks to outline some of the bilateral, regional, and international CIED initiatives that are already being implemented, and to offer modest suggestions at what more could be done.

Bilateral CIED initiatives
Whilst IEDs are increasingly becoming a global problem it remains the case that some countries are far more impacted than others. The countries that have experienced the most IED attacks in the last five years are Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Nigeria. IED attacks in these 5 countries account for over three quarters of all IED attacks recorded by Action on Armed Violence’s explosive violence data monitor. Therefore, many bilateral CIED engagements have concerned these states, as armed forces and governments from developed nations seek to offer these beleaguered nations expertise, equipment and monetary aid.

Many task forces have emerged in these countries to help build CIED capacities. Iraq alone has seen the creation of operations that include the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), Task Force Al Asad, and Task Group TAJI. Many of these initiatives have focused on training, but have also seen provision of CIED equipment for Iraqi forces. This engagement has seen a significant improvement in military and police CIED capabilities across Iraq.

Iraq
Iraq CIED capabilities have been transformed through the training provided by many state actors. The UK, for instance, has played a significant role in delivering CIED training to the Iraqi soldiers at Baghdad Operations Command. The United States Marines and the Danish Army have also provided CIED training, at the request of the Iraqi Army, and JIEDDO have also passed on lessons hard learnt in Iraq. Finnish, Australian, US and UK forces have additionally delivered training to the Kurdish forces in Iraq. And there has been substantive material aid, too. 1,000 surplus VALLON CIED metal detectors were delivered by the UK in 2015, for instance, to Iraqi forces across the country. The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and other mining agencies have also provided assistance to help Iraqi mining agencies – these have been particularly useful in raising awareness with the local populations.

Afghanistan
CIED assistance to Afghanistan has come from diverse sources and in a variety of forms. Not only have armed forces and law enforcement received training from countries such as the UK and US, but from NATO as well. NATO have also provided monetary assistance to Afghanistan through the ANA Trust Fund. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has also been highly useful to Afghanistan’s CIED efforts, such as supporting the Afghan government’s ban on ammonium nitrate fertiliser, as well as helping to regulate explosive materials and precursor chemical. UNAMA’s engagement in Afghanistan through its data collection has also provided information to other actors engaged in Afghanistan and is a data model upon which similar IED monitoring elsewhere can be built.[3]

Pakistan
Alongside the training provided by foreign forces to their Security Forces, the US has also engaged in other CIED efforts in Pakistan. This has involved diplomatic efforts to encourage stricter regulation of trade in explosive precursor materials as well as information-sharing. The Pakistan Army have introduced some restrictions for the availability of calcium ammonium nitrate-based fertilisers. The information sharing is a mutual relationship where Pakistan provide data such as on roadside bombs, and other states such as the US share their expertise on CIED techniques. Their Police Bomb Disposal Unit, however, suffers from significant funding shortages, which impacts equipment and salaries. This means they operate in a limited capacity.

Syria
There are many CIED initiatives operating in Syria, such as the clearance, risk education, capacity building and victim assistance provided by UNMAS, as well as the data collecting and awareness raising by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria. However, most CIED efforts from other states come in the form of airstrikes on ISIS members and facilities – these have been conducted by states such as Russia and those within the US-led coalition. Unfortunately, many of the air strikes have also led to civilian death and injury as well as loss of infrastructure civilian life depends on – Syria has seen at least 10,000 civilians killed or injured by air-launched explosives in the last five years, according to English language media reports.[4]

Nigeria
As with the other most impacted states, Nigeria has received CIED assistance, particularly from the US Anti-Terrorism Assistance programme. These efforts though are often inseparable from broader counter-terrorism efforts, which seek to target the root causes of the terror groups. Some countries some as the UK and the US have provided training to Nigeria’s Armed Forces (NAF). However, because the NAF has been accused of human rights abuses and because of high levels of corruption within some areas of government, there has been hesitation in providing assistance. As Nigeria is part of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), law enforcement and military personnel receive CIED training as part of this programme. Though there may not be as many states engaged in bilateral CIED efforts in Nigeria, the regional CIED endeavours that Nigeria is part of have made significant CIED progress.

Regional CIED initiatives
Many terrorist groups, and particularly those who regularly use IEDs, are not confined to one country and spread across borders. National CIED efforts can be limited if there is not cooperation between states, particularly those impacted by the same group. An example of the benefits facilitated by regional cooperation is seen in the military and law enforcement CIED cooperation to combat Boko Haram between Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Chad and Cameroon. These states have engaged in what is known as the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), unifying their efforts with the specific aim of bringing an end to the Boko Haram insurgency.

Although relatively new – established in 2015 – the MNJTF have had many successes, including the destruction of terrorist camps, the arrest or naturalisation of hundreds of terrorists, and the destruction of IED making factories and equipment. The MNJTF has recaptured 80 per cent of territory that had once been under the Boko Haram’s control.[5] This is despite the lack of funding these nations receive and the comparative lack of CIED expertise within the task force as a whole. It is worth noting that MNJTF, though, have received some training, equipment and funding from other nations and from the African Union Commission, but with further international cooperation allowing the provision of further equipment, expertise or training it is easy to envision further success for the MNJTF.

Regional initiatives have also provided training that helps ensure the spread of CIED expertise through ‘train-the-trainer’ programmes. Many of these stem from the United States’ regional programmes such as United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) and United States Pacific Command (USPACOM). These programmes have greatly aided partner nations’ CIED capabilities.

Other regional initiatives have also set in place a path for progress in regard to data collection and information sharing on IEDs. Organisations such as the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the European Bomb Data System (EBDS), the Task Force on Money Laundering in Central Africa, the European Defence Agency and Europol all are leading data groups involved – in part – in cataloguing the harm wrought by IEDs. However, many of these efforts to record and share data are often limited in use as they are only available to the members of the organisation, or are not easily searchable. However, the premise of information sharing through regional initiatives – many of which began in the late 1990s to the early 2000s – has led to calls for greater international information sharing and cooperation. CIED events run by some of these regional actors, such as the European Explosive Ordnance Disposal Network’s conferences, see not only members engage but also representatives in attendance from other non-member state departments such as from the United States and Australia. Though these regional initiatives enjoy many successes, particularly in the most affected areas by IEDs, it is again increasingly recognised that preventive CIED efforts require global cooperation.

International CIED 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”.[6]

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 on ‘Countering the threat posed by improvised explosive devices’ was adopted. The resolution encouraged states to not only adopt their own national policy to CIED 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’.[7]

Afghanistan has been one of the most impacted countries from IEDs, with 8,608 civilian deaths or injuries from 1,159 IED attacks reported in English language media in the last five years (2011-2015).[8] In response to this the country has seen international coalitions come together to aid in their fight the use of IEDs, such as the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan Counter-IED Directorate (CSTC-A CIED Directorate). The CSTC-A CIED Directorate combines all three CIED efforts within its work in Afghanistan to provide both reactive and preventative approaches, though their focus has appeared to be on the reactive side of things. They have also worked in cooperation with the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan and other educational, health and security institutions to broaden their CIED capabilities.

Over the last two years, AOAV has recorded a significant decrease in the number of IED incidents in Afghanistan, from 211 in 2013 to 88 in 2015. However, the deaths and injuries caused by these devices have sadly increased in this time period, as the use of these IEDs have become increasingly lethal. The growing sophistication of the IED used indicates an increasingly sophisticated network, where not only do terrorists receive explosive materials, but also expertise. This demonstrates that not enough is being done to adequately target the network. This has not gone unnoticed by the CSTC-A CIED Directorate or by Afghanistan’s own government.

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 emphasises 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 CIED role to play.[9]

It is a nuanced critique that may be levelled at a number of international CIED initiatives. Until we see a unified global CIED effort with a focus on information sharing, like that encouraged by Afghanistan, the networks using IEDs will remain elusive to defeat by those who seek to stop them.

Many efforts remain limited because States put too much focus on particular CIED 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, as 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 CIED 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 CIED community it is steadily being recognised that a variety of actors must be engaged and slowly CIED efforts are seeing diverse actors cooperating internationally.

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’.[10] Principally, it engaged some of the most important state and international CIED 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.[11]

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, particularly those within civil society and businesses.

A programme that seeks to encompass some of these overlooked areas is Programme Global Shield (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’.[12] The programmes’ four avenues of action are training, practical support, intelligence sharing and industry outreach.

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. The WCO are also operated other CIED 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 CIED 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 CIED 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 recognition of the role of private industry in CIED. Furthermore, the collaborative nature of its programs is echoed in their cooperation with other organisations engaging in similar efforts such as Europol, the World Customs Organisation, and United Nations agencies.

INTERPOL has previously demonstrated impressive leadership in bringing together parties to combat the IED network, however uncertainty currently exists 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.

Conclusion
Significant developments have been made with bilateral, regional and international CIED initiatives, particularly in regard to military efforts and the progress with information sharing. However, there are still significant shortcomings in CIED. Evidently, the networks creating IEDs still demonstrate better information sharing than those trying to stop them do. The increased lethality of IEDs is not a phenomenon specific to Afghanistan, it is global. 2015 saw more countries impacted by suicide bombings than ever before. It is clear that there is still much more to be done to effectively combat IED harm, and it becomes ever more apparent that a more collaborative holistic approach is required.

What is plain is that many of the utensils available to the international community are being left unharnessed. Within civil society and private businesses there are information databases that could aid significantly with CIED work. However, such information often remains disaggregated or overlooked.[13]

Though there is wide acceptance that some information on an IED event may have to remain classified for security reasons, there is also a growing sense of frustration that this principle is too deeply rooted in the psyche of many nations and that it unnecessarily prevents CIED progress. Vice Chief of the Australian Defence Force, VADM Ray Griggs, gave a speech to the International Counter Improvised Explosives Device Leaders’ Forum, in which he called for a re-balancing of these principles, with more weight being given to the information sharing based on greater understanding of the actors involved and the threat being faced.[14]

The CIED efforts of the international community are progressing and new initiatives do seek to build on lessons learnt before. In September 2015, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Department of Defence hosted the first International Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Leaders’ Forum. The forum’s main focuses are: component controls, capacity building, public awareness and information sharing. They appear to build on the efforts of AXON and the lessons learnt there. The forum seeks to establish a ‘whole of government’ approach within partner states and work with the information sharing oriented towards the ‘need to share’ principle.[15] It is hoped that the lessons continue to be implemented and a successful holistic approach is adopted which engages all types of CIED actors.

Recommendations

  • Funds found for an open-source and centralised IED database, based on multi-lingual media reporting, to be run by civil society for the benefit of the international community’s fight against IEDs. The longer it takes the international community to enable this the longer it takes to start monitoring the trends in the data and for the patterns that will help CIED efforts to emerge.
  • CIED actors must imaginatively reassess what they do and do not share, and be better prepared to engage in information sharing.
  • As a matter of urgent priority states should share purchase information of large or suspicious transactions of precursor materials between countries and its law enforcements, as well as the industries that produce and sell precursor materials.
  • Increased stigma must be attached to the use of IEDs: this may be done by increased collaboration with political, religious or cultural organisations.
  • Securing stockpiles and ERW/UXO must be given a high priority, particularly during conflict, and states, militaries, humanitarian organisations and industry should give and ask for support to secure explosives and detonators.
  • States engaged in armed conflict to target terrorist networks and facilities should refrain from using explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.
  • Efforts should also be made to address victim treatment and support which is not only a basic right but may also help combat the culture of fear in IED impacted communities that terrorist groups exploit.

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[1] Agnes Marcaillou, United Nations Mine Action Service, United Nations Overview of the Improvised Explosive Device Situation and Reflections of a Coherent Response, 3 September 2015.

[2] Agnes Marcaillou, United Nations Mine Action Service, United Nations Overview of the Improvised Explosive Device Situation and Reflections of a Coherent Response, 3 September 2015.

[3] For more information on the UNAMA’s data monitoring efforts see, Jane Hunter, ‘Tracking IED Harm’, AOAV, December 2014, https://aoav.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ied_data.pdf.

[4] Patterns of Harm: Five years of explosive violence 2011-2015’, AOAV, June 2016, https://aoav.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Patterns-of-Harm.pdf.

[5] United Nations, Department of Public Information, Boko Haram Violence Blamed for Massive Insecurity, Forced Displacement, as Security Council Considers Situation in Lake Chad Basin, SC/12463, 27 July 2016, http://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12463.doc.htm.

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

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

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

[8] Patterns of Harm: Five years of explosive violence 2011-2015’, AOAV, June 2016, https://aoav.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Patterns-of-Harm.pdf.

[9] Interview transcript.

[10] VADM Ray Griggs, ‘SPEECH TO THE INTERNATIONAL COUNTER IMPROVISED EXPLOSIVE DEVICE LEADERS FORUM’, 02 September 2015, http://www.defence.gov.au/vcdf/docs/speeches/150902-vcdf-speech-iedleaderforum.pdf.

[11] For more information on the AXON Global IED Partnership see, Jane Hunter, ‘Tracking IED Harm’, AOAV, December 2014, https://aoav.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ied_data.pdf.

[12] World Customs Organisation, ‘Illicit Trade Report 2014’, November 2015, http://www.wcoomd.org/en/topics/enforcement-and-compliance/activities-and-programmes/security-programme/~/~/media/WCO/Public/Global/PDF/Topics/Enforcement%20and%20Compliance/Activities%20and%20Programmes/Illicit%20Trade%20Report%202012/ITR%202014%20EN.ashx.

[13] For more information on the actors engaged in collecting IED data, see Jane Hunter’s ‘Tracking IED Harm’, AOAV, December 2014, https://aoav.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ied_data.pdf.

[14] VADM Ray Griggs, ‘SPEECH TO THE INTERNATIONAL COUNTER IMPROVISED EXPLOSIVE DEVICE LEADERS FORUM’, 02 September 2015, http://www.defence.gov.au/vcdf/docs/speeches/150902-vcdf-speech-iedleaderforum.pdf.

[15] INTERPOL, Press Release, ‘International Leaders’ Forum backs creation of Global Alliance to combat IED threat’, 04 September 2015, http://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News/2015/N2015-123.


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