CBC In Depth
Improvised explosive devices: A growing menace in Afghanistan
CBC News Online | April 25, 2006

An IED killed four Canadian soldiers at this spot near their camp in Gumbad, a village 75 kilometres north of Kandahar, on April 22, 2006. They were travelling in a G-Wagon armoured vehicle. (Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

Bombs like the one that killed four Canadians near Kandahar on April 22, 2006, are a growing threat to police and international troops fighting militants in Afghanistan. The name of the bombs – improvised explosive devices, or IEDs – makes them sound almost amateurish. But they're increasingly sophisticated and deadly.

By late 2005, U.S. forces operating in southern Afghanistan – where the bulk of Canada's troops are now stationed – were reporting an increasing use of bombs (including IEDs) by surviving elements of the Taliban and, perhaps, local warlords. In neighbouring Iraq, IEDs are now responsible for two out of every three deaths among U.S. troops.

Canadian engineers disarmed this double roadside bomb and remote detonator. (Stephen Puddicombe/CBC)

Most often than not, the IEDs are old artillery shells fixed with detonators, which are hidden at the side of the road and exploded remotely.

"The insurgency in Afghanistan has been very carefully studying the lessons learned by the insurgents in Iraq," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, an online portal that specializes in military and defence news.

"We're starting to see more organized ambushes in Afghanistan and starting to see the sort of roadside bombs that previously we were just seeing in Iraq."

Blast sites treated as crime scene

The attack that killed the four Canadians near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar in April 2006 was planned and precise, say the troops who investigated it.

The bombers were able to determine the least armoured vehicle in the Canadian convoy and exploded their device at exactly the correct moment, a tactic perfected in Iraq.

To turn anti-personnel mines into bombs, the insurgents put the mines in little pots and covered them with scrap metal, rocks and ball bearings. The bombs are detonated remotely. This particular type of IED doesn't do much damage to a car, but could easily kill anybody nearby. (Stephen Puddicombe/CBC)

A Canadian soldier, who can't be identified due to security reasons, told CBC News that it and other post-blast investigations are treated like crime scenes.

The soldier said investigators look for clues as to who might be the bomb maker.

"We're doing a lot of investigations, trying to find out after it went off, how the device was set up and maybe you find some forensic or equipment that's left behind," said the soldier.

Army focuses on jamming radio-controlled detonators

Every time the coalition troops make a change to boost security, the militants respond by adapting their methods, Pike said.

He said the U.S. troops were initially very focused on armouring the vehicles.

"The enemy responded by just using bigger bombs," he said.

Of late, he said, "there's been a lot of focus on jamming the radio-control devices that are used to detonate them. The army has gone to wire and infrared as a means for detonation."

The Pentagon plans to spend $3.3 billion US in 2006 to come up with countermeasures to the IED.

The Canadian military is also working on the problem and now sends new remote-controlled robots to search dangerous areas.

These improvised explosive devices were part of a stash of 43 that were found during an Afghan police investigation. The bombs were turned over to Canadian soldiers. (Stephen Puddicombe/CBC)

Many attacks initially attributed to IEDs, but later changed

After a deadly attack on Canadians in January 2006 as they travelled in an armoured vehicle near Kandahar, a coalition spokesman said coalition troops tend to initially call such incidents IED attacks – but later investigation may show they were suicide bombings.

That was the case in the Jan. 15 attack, when a taxi loaded with explosives killed Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry and injured three Canadian soldiers.

"We err on the side of caution before we declare something a suicide attack, or whether or not we declare it an act of terrorism," said Col. James Yonts, a U.S. spokesman for the coalition troops in Afghanistan, Combined Forces Central.

"Some of these attacks are not terrorism-related. Some of them are criminal in nature, drug-related."

Military tactics alone can't stop IEDs: colonel

Yonts said military tactics alone are not enough to stop IEDs, which have also been used against civilians, religions leaders and other people who aren't in "combat operations."

"The terrorists have an advantage of attacking anytime against any target," Yonts said. "And what we've seen here recently is they're not attacking the combat forces: they're attacking civilians, religious leaders, PRTs [provincial reconstruction teams] and other forces other than combat operations."


An improvised explosive device (IED) is made of:
A container or package.
An initiation system or fuse.
Explosive fill.
A detonator.
A power supply for the detonator.
Package-type IEDs
IEDs made from mortar and artillery shells. These IEDs can be thrown at a vehicles, concealed in potholes or covered with dirt alongside roads. The IEDs can be placed in cinder blocks or piles of sand to direct the blast. They are either "command-detonated" by wire or remote device, or "time-delayed" and detonated by cordless phone from a car, which can double as mobile firing platform and is hard to trace because it moves around.

Vehicle-borne IEDs
Vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs) are devices that use a vehicle as the package or container. These IEDs come in all shapes, colors and sizes, varying according to the type of vehicles available – from bicycles and donkey carts, small sedans and ambulances to large cargo trucks.

Suicide bombs
The devices carried by suicide bombers usually employ a high-explosive/fragmentary effect and use a command detonation firing system – some sort of switch or button that the person activates by hand.

Source: globalsecurity.org

Yonts called for increased cooperation and watchfulness to combat the bomb makers.

"They will not stop, so you have to kill these people and you have to stop them. But, it is not purely a military solution. …All of us have to work together to identify and work on this issue: combat operations, training, intelligence and then attacking those bomb makers and the people that are supplying them money, support[ing] the ones that are housing them. We all have to be very vigilant in this issue."

Sometimes the message seems to be getting across. In January 2006, an Afghan man showed police in Kandahar where they could find an old Soviet era anti-aircraft gun, two heavy machineguns usually mounted on armoured vehicles, more than a dozen rocket propelled grenades and some land mines.

Bob Hart, an RCMP officer who is training the Afghan police, told CBC News that the ammunition could have been used in suicide and roadside bombs.

Afghanistan studded with up to 10 million landmines

Afghanistan is one of the world's most heavily mined countries, with an estimated five million to 10 million landmines. The Landmine Monitor, which monitors compliance with the international 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, reports that approximately 724 million square metres of the country is contaminated with landmines – approximately 11 per cent of the total land area. Large areas of the country are considered inaccessible due to landmine contamination.

Many of the landmines in Afghanistan are left over from the 1980-1992 war with the Soviet Union. The era of warlords, between the ouster of the Soviets and the rule of the Taliban, saw more mines planted in the country, especially around the capital, Kabul, and its outskirts.


CANADA'S INVOLVEMENT: Canada in Afghanistan Danger pay Q&A with ambassador Text of the PM's speech to Canadian troops Timeline Kandahar patrol Canada's casualties Canadian units Canada's Equipment
ISSUES: Improvised Explosive Device The women of Afghanistan The Taliban Afghanistan: Still no peace Schools in Afghanistan
PEOPLE AND PLACES: Hamid Karzai Kabul Kandahar Mazar e Sharif
PHOTO GALLERIES: Afghan patrols Mountain Thrust Afghan offensive Road to Martello Reporting from Kandahar HARPER IN AFGHANISTAN – Monday, March 13, 2006 – Sunday, March 12, 2006 Canadians in Kandahar On the ground Afghanistan in 2004
VIDEO FEATURES: Warlords take office (Real Video runs 12:20) Carolyn Dunn visits Afghan's refugee camps (Real Video runs 2:53)
VIEWPOINT: Cpl. Brian Sanders Russell D. Storring Aisha Ahmad

Capital: Kabul

Area: 647,500 km sq. (same size as Manitoba)

Population: 28,513,000 (2004)

Head of State: Hamid Karzai

Unemployment: 78%

GDP (2003): $20 billion US (est.)

Exports to Canada (2003): $618,889

Imports from Canada (2003): $9 million

Median Age: 17.5

Life expectancy at birth: 42.46

Ethnic groups: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%

(Source: CIA World Fact Book, Government of Canada)
CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites. Links will open in new window.

Operation Athena

NATO in Afghanistan

CIA World Factbook, Afghanistan

Print this page

Send a comment

Indepth Index