Improvised Explosive Devices - I: In the terrorist tool kit

23 Feb, 2000    ·   330

Mallika Joseph traces the use of IEDs by the non state actors and its implications

Improvised Explosive Devices, most commonly referred to as IEDs, are the most commonly used tools of terror by non-state actors (NSAs). These devices incorporate highly destructive lethal and dangerous explosives or incendiary chemicals and are destined to kill or destroy the target.  They basically include some type of explosive, fuse, detonators and wires, sharpnels and pieces of metal, and a container to pack the explosives and sharpnels. 



Among all range of ammunitions available for guerrilla warfare, the IED has a significant place. It not only signals a certain level of development of the guerrilla movement as such, but also its standing with other similar outfits through the type of IED used. The type of explosive used and the assemblage indicates the support the group receives. Therefore the study of IED used by militants form a vital part in all counter-insurgency operations.



The initial years of any movement are marked by zeal and good member strength. Therefore, the most common tactic used then is encounter. However as the struggle proceeds, human and material resources become scarce forcing the members to adopt different tactics but still retain the element of surprise and terror. Simultaneously, there is advancement in certain spheres and explosives is one such area. Therefore, IEDs become the natural choice for NSAs: it offers maximum flexibility on human resources, less material input but more output in terms of damage caused. Also, the IEDs being target specific helps the NSA harm only its targets and still not get alienated from the general public.



The most simple of the IEDs used is the one initiated by closing of the battery circuit. After placing the IED in a natural culvert or under a road by digging and then camouflaging the spot, the person waits is some distance for the target to arrive. Once the target is within the damage area, the IED is initiated. The damage caused can be phenomenal as even a small amount of explosive can cause an explosion that dislodges a jeep up to 50 feet in the air, or damage a bridge totally. More sophisticated assemblies of IEDs can be even more devastating and cause much damage.  



IEDs are also used as booby traps by the NSAs to lure the security forces into the area. In Hyderabad , the naxals attacked the police outpost in a particular village after having mined an entire stretch of the only road leading from the capital to the particular village. Sensing a trap, the security forces from other places rushed avoiding the main road. After waiting to ambush for nearly twenty-five days the naxals abandoned the area. Following a tip off later, the police then unearthed 277 IEDs that were laid in that stretch of road. Another not so fortunate incident was when security forces in a particular outpost got information that an IED has been spotted near a road. The team arrived at the spot and carefully removed the IED that had been placed. Mission over, the team was jubilantly returning in the same route they had taken to arrive when their convoy was blown off by an IED. This only went to indicate that information on the first IED was indeed bait to get the security forces out to the particular spot where they were targeted subsequently. The Kashmir militants too have resorted to similar tactics whereby they have multiple blasts with the second one occurring few minutes after the first, probably by the time the security forces arrive for investigation. They are also known to use the mechanism similar to a conventional ‘double impulse fuse’ that enables the same IED for a second blast after a brief time interval.



Resort to these kinds of tactics offers the militants the safety of distance and prevents crossfire or ‘encounter death’. While an encounter can probably result in the death or injury to one or two security personnel and also kill or injure few cadres, IEDs can result in the death or injury to the entire security convoy or all those personnel present in the vehicle with no harm to the NSA members what so ever. The element of surprise and terror rolled into one can create the psychological effect the militants are wanting to. By being able to target only the security personnel, the NSAs prevent themselves from getting alienated from the people who they claim to represent. Most IEDs are easy to handle though complicated assemblies require some kind of expertise and training. And in its unassembled form, with two members carrying different parts, it is difficult to detect an IED. Thus the IED offering maximum yield with minimal losses to self and helping prevent alienation from public by being target specific has become the ideal tool of terror for the NSAs.