The evolution of modern warfare has been punctuated by the emergence of unconventional threats, reshaping the dynamics of conflict and forcing military strategists to continuously adapt. Among these threats, the rise of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) stands as a paradigm-shifting development, from their humble origins to their widespread use by insurgent groups and non-state actors. It has redefined warfare tactics, challenged conventional strategies, and underscored the importance of adaptive responses. This article delves into the history, origins, tactics, and consequences of IEDs, exploring why they have emerged as a prominent and potent force in modern warfare.

The Origins and Evolution of IEDs

The concept of improvised explosive devices is not new, dating back to early forms of guerilla warfare and sabotage. However, the transformation of IEDs into powerful and deadly weapons of war began to take shape in the latter half of the 20th century. The Vietnam War (1955-1975) marked an early use of IEDs, with Vietnamese guerrilla forces employing rudimentary explosive devices to target American military convoys and installations.

The prominence of IEDs in modern warfare further gained traction during the uprising of various armed Islamist rebel groups in the Afghan-Soviet War (1979-1989). Afghan Mujahideen resistance fighters, backed by Western powers, effectively utilized IEDs as a tactic against the technologically superior Soviet forces. These early examples of IED usage showcased the advantages of asymmetrical warfare, where smaller, less equipped forces could effectively counter larger adversaries through innovation and ambush tactics.

A US Cougar armored vehicle hit by an EID, 2007. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Rise of Insurgency and Non-State Actors

The 21st century witnessed the ascendancy of insurgency groups and non-state actors as dominant players in global conflict. This shift coincided with a surge in IED usage, fueled by factors such as ease of production, accessibility to materials, and the ability to strike at the heart of conventional military and civilian infrastructure. The proliferation of IEDs can be attributed to a range of actors, from the Afghan Taliban to Iraqi insurgents and extremist groups in various conflict zones.