With all of the hype and fear going around within the general public and media in regards to IEDs, I thought that I would shed a little light about this improvised weapon. In no way, shape, or form am I an expert in the field of IEDs, but I do hold a few certificates in demolition, one being “Master Demolition” (a Special Operations Demolition Course), and have had my share of IEDs, just as many service members, and lost a few good friends because of them.
Of course, the current events in Boston have sparked our interest in these explosive devices. Why wouldn’t they? They are hard to detect and counter.
I can still recall my first few experiences with IEDs, some that changed my perspective on war and life still to this date, watching one of my friends in Battalion run over a 155 mm mortar round, lifting his 40 ton vehicle 15 feet into the air.
The other incident occurred on a sniper operation in southern Afghanistan. My good friend and sniper steppd on a pressure plate, designed to take out an entire squad, during a hostage rescue. The device launched him through the night air into a trench. On both of these incidents, both men said the same thing, “Is my junk okay…Check it for me. Other than that I’m okay.”
A little History of IEDs
One of the first examples of coordinated large-scale use of IEDs was the Belorussian Rail War, launched by Belorussian guerrillas against the Germans during World War II. The term IED comes from the British Army, originating sometime in the 1970s. IEDs may incorporate military or commercially sourced explosives, and sometimes combine both types, or they may otherwise be made with homemade explosives (HME) which is commonly used domestically.
The more common IEDs that we have seen and heard so much of in Iraq and Afghanistan are generally composed of un-exploded ordinance and HME (homemade explosives), fairly unstable, and, if not constructed properly, less lethal than the expected intention.
IEDs were used during the Vietnam War by the Viet Cong against land- and river-borne vehicles, as well as personnel. They were commonly constructed using materials from un-exploded American ordnance. Starting six months before the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR, the Afghan Mujahideen were supplied with large quantities of military supplies. Among those supplies were many types of anti-tank mines.
Insurgents often removed the explosives from several foreign anti-tank mines, and combined the explosives in tin cooking-oil cans for a more powerful blast. By combining the explosives from several mines and placing them in tin cans, the insurgents made them more powerful, but sometimes also easier to detect by Soviet sappers.
A brigade commander said that sniffer dogs (working K-9’s) are the most reliable way of detecting IEDs.
In 2010, over 63,000 US troops were on the ground in Afghanistan. Insurgents placed over 14,000 IEDs not including the unknown number of landmines, etc., left behind and un-exploded during the Russian-Afghanistan conflict. Out of the number of IEDs and troops, less than 0.7% of those boots on ground were killed in an IED attack. To even come remotely close to these numbers, an individual, copycat, or organization would have to plant a device similar to the Boston device more than 10,000 feet apart throughout a region the size of San Antonio and detonate them simultaneously while the entire population of that region were outside standing only a few feet apart.
Those generally wounded in IED attacks, contrary to what is portrayed, suffer from over pressure, internal ear damage, and minor shrapnel injuries. I, along with many of our special operations members, can recall standing only a few feet from a door charge, or a block of C-4 (1 pound) strapped to an enemies metal door waiting to enter once it detonates, and only suffering from extreme excitement.
We generally view explosives as some sort of “guaranteed death weapon”, when in fact they are not, especially when poorly constructed. Take a look a the hand grenade that we use currently. The kill radius of a hand grenade (M67) is 15 feet, with an injury radius of 45 feet, although I’ve seen these thrown into a room full of bad guys, and not a single man inside was injured.
The fact that IEDs constructed here stateside are generally composed of low grade H.M.E, overseas as well, they pack little punch. The devices used in Boston were a very low-grade device. Most of the victims suffered the same major injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan: over pressure, internal ear injuries, etc., and fatally wounding 3. In order to construct the types of IEDs that would cause a mass casualty event like the one seen in Oklahoma, the individual would have to obtain over 4,000-5,000 pounds of crude explosives/HME, which is a feat to obtain, construct, and plant in these days.
With the current events, I’m sure that our situational awareness will continue to remain on alert, as it absolutely should. We, as Americans, seem to forget the tragic things that may and absolutely can happen to us, but are we focusing our mentality on the latest terror threat a little too much?
**Do understand, I am not taking away from lives lost and injured in the recent events. I am simply putting things into perspective through knowledge, understanding, and facts.**
(Featured Image Courtesy: DVIDS. Afghans lead counterimprovised explosive device training)