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.