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How to Address the Harms from IEDs

High-level Recommendations for Practical Approaches

Recommendations

Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) kill more people each year than any other explosive ordnance. The global response to this IED harm must be kept simple, expertly informed and considered under the following recommendations: 

  • Improve international collaboration: sharing threat-intelligence and IED data;
  • Enhance national Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) capabilities to match the threat;
  • Increase international regulation to reduce access to dual-purpose components and precursors;
  • Increase international funding to support 3rd party IEDD operations in affected areas. 

In this paper, we explore these four recommendations, show evidence that they are at the core of addressing the IED threat and offer ways forward for the EOD community.

Download the report here

Overview

In 2021, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) accounted for 43% of all global civilian casualties from explosive weapons, as reported in English-language media. That year, some 4,726 people were killed or injured by a makeshift weapon that, over the last decade, has caused more harm to civilians than any other singular type of explosive device.

Figure 1: AOAV’s list of the most impacted countries from IED usage in 2021.

To give this statement context, between 2011 and 2020, IEDs caused 135,800 civilian deaths and injuries around the world. When such weapons were used in towns and cities, 90% of those harmed were civilians. 

Indeed, of all explosive weapon harm globally over 10 years, 53% of all civilians were harmed by IEDs, compared to 23% by air-launched weapons, and 21% by ground-launched attacks.

Of note, in that 10-year period, the impact of IEDs was significantly higher than landmines. Whereas 55,275 civilians were reported killed or injured from car bombs, and 9,919 from roadside bombs, there were just 1,638 civilians harmed by mines as reported by English language media.

In other words, suicide bombings  – which resulted in 18,067 deaths and injuries, of which 14,112 (78%) were civilians – were reportedly almost nine times more injurious than all forms of mines (anti-personnel and anti-vehicle) combined, according to reputable English language media sources.

Figure 2: Global civilian casualties by weapon type: A Decade of Explosive Violence Harm, 2011-2020, Action on Armed Violence (2021)

The rise of the IED has been well noted by those working in the landmine sector. In 2018, the Landmine Monitor cited an interview with Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and Janus Global Operations reporting (when working in northern and central Iraq respectively in 2017) that IEDs made up well over 90% of the items they cleared.[1]

Whilst the last few years have seen a reduction in the number of civilian casualties from IEDs, this is more likely driven by the COVID pandemic as opposed to any significant international intervention. COVID has undoubtedly diminished the dedicated logistic and financial support enjoyed by terrorist and criminal actors. 

The virus has also seemed to impact upon donor funding within HMA, with a 16% decrease in funding to support Mine Action in 2021 (US$643.5 million) as in 2017 (US$771.5 million). Some affected countries informally report a much higher drop in funded support.

The threat of the IED may well, however, persist far longer than the virus, and this paper forms a call to arms on how to prevent this from happening.

It is not just civilians who have borne the brunt of this rise in IED harm. Over the past 50 years of military experience, the IED has become the most injurious mechanism in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) clearance as opposed to landmines of an improvised nature. In this latter military context, the type of IED can be precisely defined from timely exploitation and technical reporting. For example, 58% of recorded UK/US military conflict deaths since 1969 sit within the command- or victim-operated spectrum.[2]

Whilst the active military ‘operating envelope’ is no place for humanitarian mine action (HMA), such devices remain present in all 21st century post-conflict scenarios. One would therefore expect the same level of assurance (whether this be training, equipment, information management or human factors) being discharged to those conducting humanitarian IED clearance operations in semi-permissive and permissive environments. Such safeguarding is, after all, afforded to mine clearance in those environments.

Despite this paradigm shift in the waging of modern warfare, and the civilian harm it has caused, the international community has been slow to respond imaginatively and decisively to address the realities of improvisation. With exceptions, uncertainty at donor level remains about the scope of IED disposal (IEDD) that is suitable and appropriate for funding.  There appears to be a funding process signed off by individuals who might not be familiar with the full spectrum and harm of IEDs, and a lack of civil society focus on IEDs to raise the profile of their harm and impact.

To respond to this distance between reality and perception, this proposal offers up a quintumvirate of interlinked thematic areas that the authors believe are necessary to consider when tackling the ubiquitous presence of the IED. 

Recognising that more than 50 countries and territories are now affected by IED harm[3], we provide examples to underpin each thematic proposal, with a focus on the most badly affected regions.

Observations

We invite States Parties to note that:

  • the 21st Century challenge to Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) involves complex urban terrain and unpredictable Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), particularly in terms of complexity, design, emplacement and functionality, with human factors considerations (both physical and psychological) playing a key role in safeguarding;
  • the environment is now three-dimensional, with the assurance of civilians and HMA organisations wedded to urban survey and clearance;
  • training, personnel and equipment drive the costs necessary to conduct safe IED disposal within this context, yet they remain a focus of budgetary concern based on lack of understanding, or the ability to validate cost, despite the billions of dollars expended;
  • no coherent and effective measure has to date been adopted between humanitarian agencies and Member States to share informations relating to the IED – this would inform safety, improve understanding and allow effective budgetary decisions to be made;
  • the exploitation of IEDs should be a routine activity since it does not pose a problem to HMA if we remain focused on post-conflict clearance; and
  • the UN is the most appropriate instrument to champion effective regulatory response within global supply chains.

Thematic Approach

The global response to IED harm must be kept simple, informed by appropriate experts. Our four recommendations are a response to four interlinked thematic areas that have been identified as core to the challenges the threat poses:

  • threat assessment (to understand and inform) and information management (to inform and protect);
  • national capacity development (to deliver economies of scale);
  • focused funding (to support and specify);
  • focused regulatory improvement (to mitigate and predict).

1. Threat Assessments and Information Management

The environment engulfing explosive violence is three-dimensional, involving an eclectic mix of mines and ERW. The main costs to such a threat are predominantly urban survey and clearance. Demonstrating progress in this environment is often neatly reportable as metres squared cleared, but such metrics are frequently of little relevance to the civilians living in the shattered cities of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ukraine and Yemen. 

It is, suffice to say, notoriously difficult to cost three-dimensional clearance; Figure 3 demonstrates such complexity.

Figure 3: The complexity of the 21st century post-conflict urban environment (red outlined circles represent the presence of IEDs within the mix of ERW) – courtesy Artios Global.

What is clear is this: clearing IEDs is not like clearing a conventional minefield. And the global mine action community has known this reality since, at the least, early 2016 (Ramadi, Iraq). Despite such awareness, there is little data, no central repository of information, that can neither explain nor justify the cost of the much-needed three-dimensional approach. This is despite tens of millions of dollars having been already expended on the challenges that clearance in three-dimensional, complex urban environments bring.

The challenges of such environments are many.  There is the fact that, often, the site of concern contains human remains and as such needs to be treated not just as a threat, but with a process and a dignity which recognises that bodies lie within. There are the complications of secondary hazards being discovered (all too often within damaged infrastructure). There is the ingenuity and cruelty of bomb-makers who set out to make the defuser’s role all the more challenging.

An article written by the co-author in 2018[8] describes the 21st Century challenge to HMA as a triumvirate of complex urban terrain, unpredictable IEDs (in terms of complexity, design, emplacement and functionality) and human factors (physical and psychological). Far more challenging and nuanced, it may be said, than the world of ‘conventional’ landmines, one neatly captured (not least, in the minds of donors) by the eternal image of Princess Diana bravely navigating a mine-field.

That article outlined how costly clearance operations emerged within the scope of mine action principles, and was written at a time when humanitarian academia was largely resistant to change. The article described deminers coming across locations of varying complexity and threat, dependent upon the perpetrators who occupied them and their supply chain. It argued that, to be safe, adequate and reliable in this context, required a rare breed of team leaders and operators who are not only IED disposal experts, but who also possess a deep-seated knowledge of foreign munitions, weapon design and the effect of blast on structures to deliver a competent render safe. 

Given this, it is clear that any “two-dimensional” framing of IED and mine action hazard to donors is, today, inaccurate and misleading, generating a sense that all is well. Such framing, above all, fails to recognise that Explosive Ordnance Risk Education (EORE) and desk survey is insufficient to combat the threat.

It is hard to underplay just how complicated the new realities are. Figure 4 demonstrates the complexity of a typical clearance operation in the urban context and the nature / types of IED discovered in a typical urban setting. 

In this example, the threat is varied. In the space of 30 metres, you have improvised-mines, victim-operated IEDs, command-initiated IEDs, multiple-main charges linked to one switch, and the specific-targeting of the operator.

Figure 4: Four houses in one street containing a mix of IEDs – only house 4 contains a mine of an improvised nature.

In line with this, these authors believe that Member States must expend effort in identifying the appropriate level of IEDD expertise to conduct country and regional threat assessments prior to humanitarian interventions where IEDs are encountered. 

Those experts should not only be operators with the aptitude to attain the highest levels of EOD and IEDD qualification (the understanding), but to have held safeguarding responsibility at a senior professional level (to protect). This will deliver informed costing and underpin relevant assurance mechanisms (See AOAV’s IED papers 3 and 4 below). 

These experts may not necessarily lie within the monopoly of HMA organisations upon which the sector has become dependent. As Henry Ford once wrote, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

In addition to the issue of threat assessment, the next common theme throughout AOAV’s research concerns the poor quality of IED data available to those engaged in the field.

Whilst many stand-alone IED Information Management (IM) systems exist, there has not, to date, been a comprehensive way to share information relating to IEDs (historical, extant and emerging threats) created between humanitarian agencies and Member States. 

Such a database could, for example, detail the types of devices used; in which countries/regions; the favoured components chosen within a supply chain; and recommended render-safe procedures. Not only would this provide greater levels of understanding and safety among operators, it would provide assurance to new agencies starting work in a State or Region, and facilitates opportunities for regulation. 

The collection, interpretation and dissemination of IED data is therefore vital and must be accompanied by technical exploitation, especially given the findings of AOAV’s paper 3 (below). 

We are at a stage where energetic components are moving ever towards unpredictable home-made variants (where precursors remain inadequately policed) and where the ‘internet of things’ offers an endless choice of switches as defined by UNMAS[16] (see Figure 9). This same degree of variation is not found in conventional mines where extensive mitigation is already in place.

Figure 9: Mock-up of a Hezbollah ‘rock bomb’. This is not a mine! © BCL

At the moment, such exploitation of data remains unpalatable – concerns over neutrality and impartiality persist. To some degree this is understandable. The gathering of IED data might pose difficulties, especially in the face of some armed groups, such as those who use IEDs to pursue a strategy of terror, leaving little room for cooperation or compromise. But, within the context of HMA at least, consideration here is solely given to those IEDs found after the active conflict has ceased, with such devices being referred to the local security forces.

In such circumstances, should it not pose a problem if HMA data-gathering remained rooted to post-conflict clearance and focused on national capacity development? And, if so, where does the information on legacy IEDs now reside, given the HMA community has been clearing them for so many years?  

We recommend, too, that technical investigations (wherever possible) also be conducted into the IED death, injury or ‘near-miss’ suffered by each deminer, with cause validated externally, so that appropriate remedial action can take place across organisations involved in this line of work. Very seldom have the authors seen any technical investigation report shared with the wider community from humanitarian or commercial contractors. 

Some HMA operators do not even disclose the numbers of killed operators on their websites, let alone share publicly the sad lessons identified from each avoidable death.

2. National Capacity Counter-IED Development 

IED intervention is historically costly. For example, the price of providing immediate emergency clearance activities in Ramadi (late 2016) and the subsequent training and development of civil clearance teams was estimated at US $100 million per year. This figure was based on UNMAS’ strategic planning considerations from experience in South Sudan, Mali, Lebanon and Somalia. 

That ‘cost’, though, deserves to be compared with reference to the scale of effort required by the Multi-National Force (Iraq) to stabilise IED threats under Generals Casey and Petraeus in 2006/07[9]. In the end, approximately 2.7% of Operation Iraqi Freedom’s campaign expenditure was spent on IED clearance. Of that, just over half was expended on training, equipping and fielding 140 multinational clearance teams to facilitate the render safe of 30,000 IEDs and the removal of 40,000 tonnes of UXO from Iraq’s cities and towns. 

This equated to roughly US $12.5 million per team in a highly kinetic environment[10], where protected mobility, force protection and specialist equipment consumed the lion’s share. What is clear is that the high-levels of training needed and the necessary equipment-costs to conduct safe IED disposal in the humanitarian urban context should no longer be a surprise to donors.  What is not clear is why personnel, training and equipment are all too frequently the focus of budgetary cuts, despite their crucial roles.  It can only be assumed that such cuts, wielded seemingly without an analysis of the evidence, are rooted in a fundamental lack of understanding by donors on details such as threat assessments.

What is needed is for civilians and military alike to universally accept both the philosophy and the principles which underpin IED disposal[11],[12], and also to accept that qualifications and competence are an absolute requirement to address the varying levels of threat, complexity, and intent of the perpetrator. From this starting point wider recovery mechanisms could be established.

Standardised training and assurance mechanisms not only underpin an appropriate response to threat assessment, but also allow those tasked to deliver within a timeframe that is commensurate to the capacity of the State requiring assistance. Not every state can adopt or afford remote means, for example, but with widespread and comprehensive training and mechanisms in place, activities addressing the IED threat could be prevented from stalling. 
The philosophy and principles, accompanied by mandatory actions and quality management (QM), protect counter-IED operators and allow them to consider economies of scale. Adopting IED-disposal good practice[13] in the context of increasing threat and limited national capacity, based on philosophy and principles, would save lives and livelihoods. It also restores community confidence.

An example of this, within the context of economies of scale, is Yemen, where IED threat assessment and community consultation led to the identification of training, equipment and risk education shortfalls in four governorates badly impacted by IEDs in the urban context. IEDs were causing huge harm in these places. 

Data on civilian impact from such harm shows that – between January 2018 and December 2021 – IEDs had a far greater impact on civilian populations in Yemen than other non-kinetic threats.  On average, some 7.11 Yemeni civilians were killed or injured per IED explosion compared to UXO (3.82) and mines (2.88). Such statistics were reached through inexpensive improvements to Yemen’s information management system (IMSMA), that delineated a 30/70 split in terms of IEDs to other types of mine[14].

Data-dictated responses have been shown, again and again, to be fundamental to mission success. Threat assessment, consultations, training, delivery of equipment for national mine action authorities, local security forces (in Yemen this came in at 20% the cost of proposed international interventions based on tenders received) – all have been shown to be successful. 

Simple responses were at the heart of this data-led review.  For instance, when shortfalls in training of deminers were identified in the threat assessment, a training-needs analysis was undertaken.  This identified that a key factor in operators being killed on mission was their lack of separation from the bomb during EOD action. The response?  Given that remote means were neither possible nor affordable within that particular conflict, the teams improvised and created locally-resourced semi-remote capacities (see Figure 7).  Necessity was, in this case, the mother of innovation.

Figure 7: An officer of the national mine action authority uses simple hook and line procedures to remove a pressure plate from an offset directional main charge. Courtesy UNDP Yemen 2021.

The development of this semi-remote capacity not only created work opportunities within the local community, but also, by being local, meant that any broken or worn-out items could be cheaply and swiftly replaced. Local solutions, in this way, have the capacity to empower and protect operators more than high-tech ones.

Similarly in Yemen, Explosive Ordnance Risk Education (EORE) focused on specific, not generic, threats. Educational material was created for those at greatest risk (especially children and youth – see Figure 8). 

In the space of just 12 months 161,844 civilians received targeted EORE sessions (21% men, 18% women, 31% boys, 30% girls); 16,000 EORE products were distributed; over 200 community leaders (69% male, 31% female) established community feedback mechanisms; and 73 bomb disposal officers (94% male, 6% female) received semi-remote training and equipment to a local and manageable standard (not to IMAS’ standards, but to a necessary competence: the IMAS training was too long and unwieldy to deliver appropriate trained response).

These simple interventions against IEDs had noticeable impact[15]:

  • 266 IEDs were rendered safe with no casualties amongst operators or first responders (prior to the training there had been one operator fatality per 13 IED disposals);
  • 10,407 other types of mines and ERW were recovered due to increased capacity amongst operators;
  • 29,296 civilian lives and livelihoods were protected across those governorates;
  • visible and rapid recovery action was witnessed, based on community concerns, leading to increased confidence in the security sector; and
  • other types of violence / concern were reported within these community networks as confidence grew, facilitating further focus for other meaningful interventions.
Figure 8: Children in high-threat area receiving EORE in Taiz governorate – courtesy of UNDP Yemen 2021

One final element of EOD training must lie in regard to addressing the psychological harm of the work. Those looked at for this type of work must be properly scrutinised to establish how they might respond to stress; those chosen must be trained up to cope with the risk and the unpleasant nature of the work. Beyond training, it should be taken as a given that EOD operators and searchers will experience some form of traumatic overload.

3. Better, More Focused Funding

Donor-funding support is the golden thread that permeates throughout the thematic areas. However, it is inevitable that the unit costs of clearing IEDs (whether per item, per operator, per task or per square metre) will always exceed that of conventional landmine clearance. There is far greater choice and opportunity available to the perpetrator (Papers 2 and 4) and improvisation brings with it the uncertainty of build standard, performance and size. 

The simple costly logistics created by the size of some IEDs must give pause for thought. For example, a vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) can contain up to 10,000 kg of explosive (and perhaps such a weight of material lies crushed underneath rubble, alongside critical infrastructure).  Buried main charges can be anywhere between 0.5 kg (sufficient to kill or maim a human) and often over 50 kg (designed to destroy vehicles). The diversity of the challenges that these IEDs pose in their removal is staggering.

A conventional landmine on the other hand, such as the TM57, contains no more than a 6.5 kg explosive. The damage parameters of conventional vs improvised are therefore poles apart if a mistake should be made during render safe. Not only can more lives be lost in a single event, but damage to critical infrastructure could also occur with the obvious political, reputational, and financial risks associated.

The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) clearly articulated the conundrum relating to cost in its 2016 study into mine action and IEDs[17], but it may also have underplayed its findings. The paper’s strategic focus centred on Northern Iraq, highlighting the developing technical/contextual complexity of the ‘operating envelope’ in terms of active and non-active conflict and the appropriate response. That paper, however, pre-dated key developments in Anbar province (the liberation of Ramadi and Fallujah) and the subsequent liberation of Ninewah (see Figure 10), and the sheer devastation such horrors wrought.

Figure 10: Federal Police move cautiously through the shattered remains of Al-Maydan, Western Mosul. Copyright Simon Boxton/INSTA@SIMONBUXTON)

If we consider the changing landscape and overlay this with sound mine action principles, then we observe two entirely different triangles of effort developing (see Figure 11).

Figure 11: HMA principles applied to the IED context ©GICHD

For humanitarian purposes, the donor prefers the triangle on the right, with a relatively inexpensive focus on desk assessment, NTS and EORE. Whilst these are low-cost and high-impact (relating specifically to beneficiaries), the contested space of the 21st century sits in the left-hand triangle. Here the beneficiary receives (at best) short-term relief. 

With IEDs, it is clear that effort must be primarily expended on clearance and technical survey in order to support stabilisation and reconstruction efforts, yet this comes at a high cost, and one with no tangible immediate data points that could be seen as ‘good’ investment to the donors (e.g. the metres squared cleared are limited; the number of beneficiaries difficult to determine without longer-term census). 

AOAV’s ‘Propaganda of the Deed’ report (Paper 2) shows how such a failure to address IEDs also plays well into the perpetrator’s hands in such cases. Communities remain isolated, humanitarian funds escalate to sustain IDPs in tented camps, reconciliation remains a distant dream, and a resurgence of violence becomes the inevitable consequence. 

What is clear, though, is that experience in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen to date should be sufficient evidence for Member States and others to prioritise more appropriately EOD funds, with a focus on clearance.

Donors must strive to be better educated on the realities faced on the ground.  They must be better prepared to adjust their expectations accordingly. Cost reduction is possible through informed threat assessment, and donors can witness such reductions by identifying the appropriate expert to apply the intelligent application of IED philosophy and principles to potential technical project proposals (the economies of scale). In this way, any cost which is identified as ‘X’ is likely – in the end – to be ‘X’.

4. Better, more Considered Regulation

This thematic recommendation should focus on all the most likely components used in the manufacture of an IED, and the supply chains that make construction and deployment possible. 

AOAV’s initial approach has been to consider explosive components, notably the detonator, booster and main explosive charge, whether they be military, commercial or home-made. Most specifically, no IED can function if the explosive train is compromised.

Whilst some regulations – such as effective Physical Security and Stockpile Management (PPSM) and targeted sanctions –  have shown significant headway in restricting the use of some military and commercial explosives, such engagement falls short.  Rather, it is the domain of explosive chemical precursors (ECP), those used in the manufacture of home-made explosive alternatives, that requires far, far greater focus. 

Recent academic literature[18] identifies several cases where existing regulation is insufficient; it describes, for instance, how risk and risk management to ECP could be better applied. 

This recommendation paper argues that the UN is the most appropriate instrument to champion such activity. This is most certainly one for thematic discussion by Member States, not least in determining appropriate global regulation for key offenders such as ammonium nitrate, potassium chlorate, hydrogen peroxide and those precursor chemicals most certainly identified in  detonator manufacture.  Somalia provides a test case on some of the broader shortfalls using improvised dynamite, as an example.

Potassium nitrate and concentrated nitric acid are both listed on the Programme Global Shield (PGS) explosive precursor chemicals dataset, and as such are subject to stringent regulation within the global supply chain. Potassium nitrate is not an explosive, but when mixed with other fuels can generate energetic compositions (gunpowder being the oldest known)[19]. Nitric acid has no practical domestic use but is an essential precursor in the manufacture of nitroglycerine (NG) and dynamites. Concentrated sulphuric acid is often used with nitric acid to optimise the nitration reaction. As a liquid explosive, NG can generate velocities of detonation approaching 7700 ms-1. Its performance in the manufacture of military dynamites[20] is cited in the region of 4400 ms-1.

For illustration on the need to address such dynamites – comprising NG, charcoal and potassium nitrate – it is worth noting they have been used in Somalia since 2017; the Security Council’s report of 2018[21] highlights the extent of the illicit ECP network in the East African nation. The devastating effect of Al-Shabaab ‘dynamite’ was felt on 14th October 2017, when the organisation detonated a vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) at a busy crossroads near the Safari Hotel in Hodan District, Mogadishu. 587 people were killed, with over 316 injured. The main charge was estimated at 2,000 kg, comprising ‘dynamite’ and harvested TNT. ‘Dynamite’ was used to add bulk to the detonation given sanctions and gradual improvements to PSSM. 

The use of HME by Al-Shabaab for IED construction since 2017 was confirmed by the UN Panel of Experts in November 2019, which provided evidence of HME manufacture three months prior to the Hodan District event[22].  In this preceding event, the Somali Police Force successfully interdicted a VBIED at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Mogadishu. Laboratory analysis confirmed the presence of NG, potassium nitrate and carbon fuel in a ratio suitable for successful detonation[23]. Bespoke trials conducted by an HME expert[24] identified a TNT equivalence of about 0.8.

According to subsequent laboratory analyses provided by the FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Centre (TEDAC) and additional exploitation by UNMAS Somalia, the trend of Al-Shabaab producing ‘dynamite’ has increased further since the summer of 2018. Most interestingly, the UNODC GMCP[25] identified a 10-fold increase in sulphuric and nitric acid imports to Somalia during 2017 – trends that were not formally identified until publication of their November 2020 report. The most notable attack at scale since 2017 was in December 2019, when a 4000 kg truck bomb exploded in Mogadishu, killing more than 80 people[26].

As for demand, Somalia took delivery of 127,600 kg concentrated nitric acid from India, Kenya and the UAE in 2020. This was accompanied by 334,602 kg concentrated sulphuric acid received from India and 40,000 kg potassium nitrate received overland from Kenya. Consultations with the Maritime Police Force confirmed that the end-user of these ECP was not known in most cases and that resolutions[27] left governance open to human interpretation. The PGS simply wasn’t working despite the regulation.

There have been over 470 IED incidents since resolution 2498 (2019) came into force[28]. However, without effective exploitation, it is not possible to determine precisely how many have contained improvised NG. Upon consultation with experts in the Somalia-Yemen mine action sector, the majority have contained ‘dynamite’ in the region of 200 kg. Given that the tactic to bulk out VBIEDs with ‘dynamite’ has been evident since 2017, this equates to approximately 52 VBIED throughout 2018/19 that may have incorporated dynamite up to 10,400 kg in weight. The amount of nitric acid required to complete the successful synthesis of NG in such a quantity is estimated at 2 percent of annual delivery.

Conclusion

Many thousands of ideas and recommendations have been proposed by the international community regarding IEDs, with focus and direction being applied from the UN Secretary-General and Heads of Member States downwards.

Countering IEDs (C-IED) remains the ‘buzz word’ with humanitarian organisations debating what this means and offering bastardised military doctrine to suit an undefined purpose.

The truth, though, is that the debate has become increasingly confused, dense and immobile. Policymakers and funders are best advised that C-IED is all about cross-government capacity development, not just within a regional context but also amongst the communities exposed to the problem.

Peace cannot be won without providing security freedoms.

Given this overly complex situation, our response needs to be kept simple. 
It is hoped these recommendations offer a way forward:

  • Improve international collaboration: share threat and IED information;
  • Enhance national Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) capabilities to match the threat;
  • Increase international regulation to reduce access to dual-purpose components and precursors;
  • Increase international funding to support 3rd party IEDD operations in affected areas.

Background

AOAV was commissioned by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), with the support of the French government, to produce four expert papers on IEDs as part of a two-year study; this commenced in October 2019. Each author has been collegiate in approach, offering a mix of academic understanding and practical experience of the IED from the tactical (hands-on disposal operations) to the strategic (former responsible owners for regional planning). A summary of each paper and a link to its content is provided below.

Paper 1 – IEDs past, present and future

This paper identifies the reality that the IED is here to stay, that it is nothing new, yet it has far surpassed the landmine as the most injurious feature in explosive violence towards civilians today. The reasons for this are in part symptomatic of the underlying causes of violence and violent extremist organisations, specifically chronic and persistent instability, and the breakdown of states and civil society across much of the Middle East, South Asia and North and Central Africa. It is also a consequence of admirable effort towards a mine free world (the Maputo aspiration) and improved ammunition physical stockpile and security management (PSSM). This leaves terrorism and criminality little recourse but to improvise. Whilst IED attacks will not decrease until these root causes of vehement discontent are effectively addressed, there is a degree of mitigation that can be applied.

Authors: Iain Overton (Action on Armed Violence); Roger Davies (www.standingwellback.com); Dr Louise Tumchewics (Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict).

Paper 2 – An examination of the precursor chemicals found within IEDs

Examines the global supply chains available to terrorists and those items most commonly in use, highlighting problems with existing regulation for even the most frequent use items (such as nitrates, chlorates and peroxides), a lack of coherence in our approach to towards HME, and the emergence of the ‘internet of things’[4]. The days of the conventional minefield are over within the context of the 21st century conflicts we face, with the IED network becoming a misnomer of focus. IED networks do not exist in isolation[5] since global illicit trade involves the economic or ideological exchange of prohibited goods and services, ranging from the trafficking of illegal narcotics, endangered wildlife, stolen cultural artifacts and illegal weapons to the exploitation of migrants, children and sex workers[6]. These networks are readily established and a major business for transnational criminal organizations, estimated at US $2.2 trillion per annum, or 3 % of the world’s global economy[7]. Advocates of terror using the IED therefore sit within the broader context of criminality, and it is in this arena that the most appropriate levers should be applied.

Author: Brigadier Gareth Collett (Brimstone Consultancy)

Paper 3 – The Challenge IEDs Pose for the Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) Sector 

Considers the challenges that the IED poses to the HMA sector. While some HMA organisations have shown that they can step up to the challenge using transferable skills, it must be recognised that IEDs pose a much higher level of threat than conventional landmines. Donor resourcing sees us lost in the search for definition, as opposed to focusing on qualification, competence, and aptitude. Capabilities vary from organisation to organisation and country to country, there is no central regime for addressing skill fade, or for following up on operator fatalities and injuries to determine cause, effect and future capacity development focus. Quality Management (QM) and assurance are lacking.

Author: Col Steve Smith (Action on Armed Violence)

Paper 4 – The Improvised Explosive Device and ‘The Propaganda of the Deed’

The propaganda of the deed analyses the symbiotic relationship between the improvisational form of violence that is offered by the IED and the ideological drivers behind use. The suicide bomber stands out as a form of the IED that has become emblematic of the Propaganda of the Deed. However, the international community does not address acts of such terror in the same investigative fashion as that of criminality. Does this therefore mean that acts of terrorism are treated as the lesser evil to criminal acts of murder? International law and the unlawfully killed / injured victims would expect an IED incident to be treated as a crime scene with technical exploitation a matter of routine.

Authors: Iain Overton (Action on Armed Violence) and Sean McCafferty (University of Glasgow)

About the Authors of these recommendations

Brigadier General Gareth Collett CBE CEng MSc FIExpE

Gareth Collett is a former British Army officer who specialised in counter-terrorist bomb disposal. He was appointed CBE in 2013 as the head of the United Kingdom’s bomb disposal profession and principal proponent for the safeguarding of multinational EOD operations worldwide. Gareth is a world leading and published subject matter expert on countering improvised explosive devices (C-IED), blast mitigation and post-blast forensics, having recently completed post-blast evaluation on the Beirut disaster for the Lebanese government and the potential impact upon the environment following fuel-air explosions aboard FSO SAFER. In his spare time, Gareth is a pro-bono Board Member and Ambassador to two International Victim Assistance Charities, a senior member of the Civilian Stabilisation Group and Fellow of the Institute of Explosive Engineers. He is currently the Chief Technical Advisor for the United Nations Development Programme.

Mr Iain Overton

Iain Overton is the Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence. He has been a member of an expert working group on explosive weapons for the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, sits on the advisory committee to the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Explosive Weapons, and is an expert member of the Forum on the Arms Trade. He also sits on the Advisory Board for the NIHR Global Health Research Group on Post Conflict Trauma; PrOTeCT at Imperial College London. He is the author of two books, including a history of the suicide bomber: The Price of Paradise.


[1] Interview with Nina Seecharan, Country Director, Mick Beeby, and Kathy Keary, Grants and Liaison Officer, MAG, in Erbil, 23 July 2017; “An Initial Study into Mine Action and Improvised Explosive Devices,” GICHD, February 2017, p. 21. Janus and the GICHD study refers to the munitions as IEDs. Cited in Iraq Mine Action the-monitor.org/en-gb/reports/2018/iraq/mine-action.aspx#ftnref12

[2] Collett, G.P, 2018. IED clearance in the 21st Century. Official Journal of the Institute of Explosive Engineers – March 2018 pp 16 – Table.

[3] UNODA. (2018). Securing our common future – an agenda for disarmament. New York : Office of Disarmament Affairs

[4] The Internet of things describes physical objects that are embedded with sensors, processing ability, software, and other technologies that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the Internet or other communications networks.

[5] Radisch, J., 2016. “Illicit trade: Convergence of criminal networks”, in Illicit Trade: Converging Criminal Networks. Paris: OECD Publishing.

[6] UNCTAD, 2019. MAPPING THE IMPACT OF ILLICIT TRADE ON THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS. [Online]. Available at: https://unctad.org/system/files/non-official-document/DITC2019_TRACIT_IllicitTradeandSDGs_fullreport_en.pdf [Accessed October 2021].

[7] Coke-Hamilton, P. & Hardy, J., 2019. Illicit trade endangers the environment, the law and the SDGs. We need a global response. [Online]

Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/07/illicit-trade-sdgs-environment-global-danger/ [Accessed August 2021].

[8] Collett, G.P, 2018. IED clearance in the 21st Century. Official Journal of the Institute of Explosive Engineers – March 2018. Feature article pages 10-17.

[9]Post-Operational Report MNC (I) – April 2007, CJTF Troy. 

[10] The casualty rates from IEDs alone in Iraq during Apr 06 – Mar 07 were approximately 10,000 coalition/ISF killed or injured and 14,000 civilians killed or injured.

[11] AJP-3.15, February 2018 Edition C Version 1. NATO C-IED Doctrine

[12] https://www.mineactionstandards.org/fileadmin/user_upload/IMAS_09-31_Ed1.pdf pp 7-8

[13] https://www.gichd.org/en/our-response/international-and-national-mine-action-standards/improvised-explosive-device-clearance-good-practice-guide/

[14] https://www.mineactionreview.org/assets/downloads/3644_NPA_Clearing_the_Mines_2021.pdf – pp 320

[15] October 2021. UNDP Emergency Mine Action Project Yemen Phase 1 – pp 6 – 7.

[16] UNMAS 2018. IED Lexicon, pp 18 – 26.

[17] An initial study into mine action and improvised explosive devices © GICHD, February 2017 ISBN: 978-2-940369-67-6

[18] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405844021024464

[19] Andrade, T., 2016. The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History. Woodstock(Oxfordshire): Princeton University Press.

[20] Fedoroff, B. T. & Sheffield, O. E., 1962. Encyclopedia of Explosives and Related Items. Picatinny Arsenal(New Jersey): U.S Army Research and Development Coommand.

[21] Umarov, K., 2018. Letter dated 7 November 2018 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea addressed to the President of the Security Council, s.l.: Security Council Committee.

[22] De Buytswerve, M. P., 2019. Letter dated 1 November 2019 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolution 751 (1992) concerning Somalia addressed to the President of the Security Council, New York: UNSC.

[23] Turley, B., 1864. On Nobel’s blasting powder, improved by addition of nitroglycerin. Polytechnisches Journal, 1 January, 171(CVIII), pp. 443 – 445.

[24] Owen, C., 2020. Assessment of Explosive Composition containing Nitroglycerine, Potassium Nitrate and Charcoal, Malmesbury: 6QR.

[25] UNODC & IOFMC, 2020. Improvised Explosive Devices in Somalia, New York: UNODC.

UNSG, 2016. Countering the threat posed by IEDs, New York: UNGA.

[26] Crisis Watch, 2019. Al-Shabab Claims deadly attack in Somalia’s Mogadishu. [Online]

[27] United Nations Security Council, 2019. Resolution 2498 (2019) Adopted by the Security Council at its 8665th meeting, on 15 November 2019. [Online] 

[28] UNMAS, 2021. Explosive Hazard Analysis Report 2020 – UNMAS in Somalia, New York: UNMAS.