Though various militant groups in the subcontinent have been using IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) for the last few years with increasing regularity, recent killings have highlighted their deadly impact. Of all the weapons that the militants possess, IEDs, coupled with explosives like RDX, pose the greatest danger to human and material security due to the ease with which they can be made, planted and blasted. The IED is a simple weapon containing some explosive, fuse, detonators and wires, shrapnel and pieces of metal, and a container to pack the explosives and shrapnel.
IEDs have assumed great importance for militants and Naxalite groups for various reasons. Despite the possession of sophisticated arms, including machine guns – light and heavy, an encounter can probably result in the death or injury of one or more security personnel and also kill or injure a few cadres; but IEDs can cause in the death or injury of an entire security convoy or all the personnel in a vehicle with no harm to the militants. Besides, IEDs are target-specific, in the sense that they can be detonated by the user at the right moment and at the right spot. By being able to target only security personnel, the militants avoid getting alienated from the people they claim to represent. Thus, IEDs provide maximum flexibility to the militants and Naxalites.
Secondly, IEDs are simple to carry and assemble. Using a grenade or ammunition, which are relatively easy to locate during search by the security forces, the fuse, wires, batteries and detonators used in IEDs can be carried by different persons and assembled later with little risk of being detected.
Thirdly, IEDs are effectively used as booby traps by militants to lure the security forces into the area. The Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh and the militants in
have used the IEDs as bait to get the security forces out to the particular spot where they are subsequently ambushed. There are multiple blasts with the second explosion occurring a few minutes after the first one, timed for the security forces when they reach the spot for investigation. The militants also use a mechanism similar to a conventional ‘double impulse fuse’, where the same IED initiates both blasts, the first one to bait and the following one to target the investigating team.
Fourthly, IEDs are very easy to plant. They can be placed under a culvert or under a road by digging and then camouflaging the spot. Given the conditions of roads in militancy prone areas, it is very difficult to detect IEDs despite the employment of road-opening parties.
What makes the IED lethal is the explosive used for assembling it. The types of explosives used range from those available for commercial use to those meant specifically for military use. The commonly used commercial explosive in
is the gelatine stick, which is legally used in stone quarries for blasting rocks. Despite these explosives being distributed only to licensed contractors, the Naxalites and militants manage to procure these either through extortion, force or terror. The gelatine sticks, however, are not as lethal as RDX. Even when used in small quantities, RDX gives a yield with high destructive capability. Though the militants in the North East use RDX, the RDX-IED combination has been used more often in
, because of the easy availability of the RDX to militant groups operating there.
RDX has a high explosive potential, is light, and is also malleable which allows its transport without suspicion. Though RDX is a military explosive and cannot be procured commercially, the external support to various militant groups in
makes it easy for them to obtain it. Almost all the militant-related IED incidents in
have used RDX. The combination of RDX-IED in
increased during the second half of the 1990s. Reliance on RDX will continue and is certain to become a major strategy for the militants. In fact, militants groups in the North East seem to be shifting to RDX, instead of other explosives.
Given the easy availability of explosives and, appreciating the external involvement in providing RDX to militant and criminal groups, and the simple process involved in making an IED, the RDX-IED combination will be the real problem in the coming years; more so than the AK-47s in the hands of the militants.