The Times ran an interesting article earlier this week entitled 'The success of the home-made bomb: increased use of improvised electronic devices poses threat to peace and security'. The article is the latest in a steady trickle of media reporting about what are frequently described as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), which are a frequent weapon of insurgents in Iraq, the Taleban in Afghanistan and by various other violent actors in many conflicts around the world.
IEDs certainly aren't a new phenomenon, but they've become of increasing concern and profile for Western militaries this decade as they've found themselves in zones in which their troops are exposed to the weapons to a greater extent. The Times article mentioned above contends that up to 300 IEDs are detonated somewhere in the world every month. The countries affected include Algeria, Chechnya, Pakistan, Colombia and Sri Lanka as well as Afghanistan and Iraq mentioned already. Moreover, the Washington Post reported in July that suspected Shiite militiamen in Iraq have even begun using powerful rocket-propelled bombs described as Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions, or IRAMs:
"They are propane tanks packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives and powered by 107mm rockets. They are often fired by remote control from the backs of trucks, sometimes in close succession. Rocket-propelled bombs have killed at least 21 people, including at least three U.S. soldiers, this year."(You can see some pictures of IRAMs on the Long War Journal.)
Increasing amounts of money and other resources are being spent by some governments on detection and countermeasures in order to protect their troops. But, of course, beyond the military threats there are also the deadly hazards to civilians of IEDs - who usually have no protection whatsoever, and are, indeed, often the intended victims of IED attacks. Nor is this just a headache in places like Iraq: at least one media report indicates that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI agree that "the homemade explosive devices that have wreaked havoc in Iraq pose a rising threat to the United States." Intelligence and law enforcement agencies in many other countries are also concerned.
More focused and systematic data collection about IEDs is needed, as well as some policy dialogue at the international level in the arms control field about whether and how work in this area might be of benefit. Unfortunately, we're headed into arms control silly season from here until the end of the year, with UN First Committee in New York, the biological weapons, anti-personnel mines and Certain Convention Weapons Conventions' meetings in Geneva, and the Convention on Cluster Munitions signing ceremony in Oslo where most multilateral arms control attention will be - not to mention an upcoming U.S. presidential election and an unfolding world financial crisis.
However, someone thinking and blogging on these things on a frequent basis is Landmine Action UK's Policy & Research Manager Richard Moyes, whose Explosive Violence blog Disarmament Insight also has a link to at right. Richard is also, it seems, keeping a useful ad hoc log of explosive violence incidents, many of which pertain to IED use: you can check that out here.
We certainly can't claim ignorance that IEDs are a problem, even if a lot more investigation and attention is needed.
Image credit: borrowed from Richard's Explosive Violence blog.