Evolution from Landmines to IEDs: How do Humanitarian Mine Action organisations change?
The challenges for today’s Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) community are significant and extensive. However, the rise of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are at the forefront of HMA organisations’ thinking and how to respond. During this decade, the rise of IEDs have become much more prevalent and to the point where this has impacted on HMA actors to perform their humanitarian roles. So, what are IEDs and why are they so dangerous for HMA organisations and the communities they are trying to assist? Let’s start with some definitions.
We can use the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) to define a conventional landmine, as this is the go-to standard of the HMA industry. A landmine is an explosive or other material, typically, encased and designed to destroy or damage ground vehicles, boats or aircraft; or designed to wound, kill or otherwise, incapacitate personnel. Landmines can be detonated by the action of its victim, by the passage of time, or by controlled means. The two types of landmine categories are: Anti-Personnel (AP) and Anti-Vehicle (AV) – depending on the intended target.
Figure 1. An AP Stake Mine with tripwire, Kosovo
A landmine is designed to be left in an armed condition in an area, and in such a way that it will deny or delay the passage of an enemy through that area. To achieve this, the landmine must remain operable for the required period of time, often under adverse conditions, and be able to inflict the required level of damage on the target. The use of landmines in asymmetric warfare, or in transition to war, or post-conflict situations differ from conventional mine warfare. Insurgents, saboteurs, and special forces can use landmines in conjunction with Booby Traps to create nuisance minefields, designed to inflict psychological and physical damage.
Figure 2. An AV Mine, hidden in Kosovan Woods
Using the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) standard, IEDs can be defined as: “a device placed or fabricated in an improvised manner incorporating destructive, lethal, noxious, pyrotechnic or incendiary chemicals and designed to destroy, incapacitate, harass or distract. It may incorporate military stores, but is normally devised from non-military components.” 1 The emphasis here is on the word ‘improvised’ as its context has changed considerably since the NATO definition. In conflict areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria, a multitude of conventional military munitions exist that are utilised as IEDs, by different non-state actors with deadly effect. In contrast, Myanmar for example, makes use of materials such as bamboo, to create improvised bombs and IEDs, which are lethal to both civilians and military personnel alike.
Because of the proliferation of military munitions now found in many parts of the world, the UK Armed Forces has further classified the term IED as: “An explosive device, constructed using non-commercial methods, usually in a domestic setting; or a device using ammunition that has been modified to allow it to be initiated in a non-standard way and for a purpose not envisaged by the original equipment manufacturer” (138). 2
Figure 3. A basic IED hidden inside an old tyre
IEDs can be delivered in the following ways: vehicle borne, person-borne, passive, directional, and placed.
Unique issues of HMA clearance and IEDs
For many decades, the de-miners of HMA organisations have had to work with dangers of booby trapped devices in various parts of the world. Furthermore, de-miners are trained via in-country standards, on how to deal with this threat. They are also no strangers to the risks involved in working in hostile areas such as Afghanistan, where de-miners have been targeted by non-state actors in the past. However, the risks associated with IEDs across many conflict areas, have increased to such an extent that normal HMA operations can no longer be performed, for example, in the border areas of Syria.
Conflict areas such as Iraq and Syria, are classic examples of where the IED threat is endemic. As and when a region has been stabilised and peace has been secured, only then can HMA teams start the process of clearance, which is where sustainable development can flourish. If the HMA organisations cannot operate safely and with the appropriate training in these areas, then the sustainable recovery of these war-torn regions will not be realised. Currently, C-IED operations are only really carried out by state military teams both during and post-conflict stages. For example, Russian Sappers carrying out clearance operations at Palmyra, Syria, or NATO forces operating in Afghanistan alongside local state forces to combat the constant IED threat from insurgents. Clearly, individual state military forces cannot conduct humanitarian clearance operations, which leaves an ever-widening gap with the INGOs operating in this field.
The threat and risks of IEDs is very different to the threat and risks of conventional landmines. Standards are in place to deal with landmine clearance and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) tasks, backed up with rigorous training and recognised qualifications at differing levels and competency. However, these standards do not apply when dealing with IEDs in the civilian world. As an example, de-miners entering the city of Raqqa in Iraq to clear landmines and (Explosive Remnants of War) ERW, will face threats and risks from IEDs that they possibly cannot deal with and have very little knowledge about. Also, technically, de-miners will not have the appropriate tools to defeat certain IEDs in the field. If a de-miner trained in IMAS standards cannot detect and defeat certain IEDs, then how will the local population survive and ultimately prosper?
Figure 4. Stake Mine booby trapped with an AP Mine
This gap will only continue to increase, unless the HMA organisations start to address the issues they are faced with. Mine Risk Education (MRE) plays a crucial role in the successful development of a post-conflict region. With its ongoing education to a civilian population returning to their homes and relying on NGOs to educate on the risks now faced, the threat of IEDs is not really being addressed to a large degree. Currently, there is no real coordination of IED education with specific country threats identified, into a recognised standard that can be utilised worldwide. Therefore, the HMA industry as a whole, must change its way of thinking and operating, in order to meet the growing threat of insurgency warfare; how HMA organisations operate, and how IEDs are developed and used.
The way forward
There are multiple ways to counter the threat of IEDs whilst ensuring the safety of HMA operators in the field and to the civilian population they are there to assist. HMA organisations such as The Halo Trust, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and the Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) align themselves to clearance procedures, which are underwritten by IMAS and overseen by the United Nations in the form of UNMAS (United Nations Mine Action Service). These organisations need to address the IED threat and create new procedures and standards for the HMA industry, so that dealing with the IED can be countered. Following this, the question of training still requires addressing. Only recently, private companies have started to offer specific IED training courses aimed at the humanitarian industry. This is required so that members of INGOs can be trained and have the skills to combat IED threats in which areas they operate. In the US, UK, and Kosovo, companies are starting or will start, to offer Humanitarian IED Courses (HIEDC) in the future.
Figure 5. Mon 100 IED
MRE needs to incorporate the role of IEDs in its ongoing function and the role it plays on civilians living in post-conflict areas. This education is crucial to ensure that a population remains safe and therefore, promotes the sustainable development, which is so badly required. This education can filter down from new standards that will be created and then via the training of MRE experts, delivering this important role. In parallel with ongoing education, an international IED database needs to be created that details the types of devices used and created, in which country, and how IED can be defeated. Sharing of information by various agencies and organisations can greatly improve the validity and credibility of this type of database. The technology today exists, as do the governing bodies who oversee HMA to create and administer this database – the political will and funding is required to make this happen.
Finally, the threat of IEDs is a certainty and also dynamic, which makes this issue very difficult to solve. As non-state actors adapt and create new IED threats as their weapon of choice, HMA organisations must change working methodologies to oppose this risk. Insurgency warfare is prevalent and permanent for the foreseeable future; this is not going to change. With new standards implemented to combat risks, coupled with expert bespoke delivered training and improved education, in conjunction with verified data gathering and sharing, and the use of new technologies, the threat of IEDs can start to be countered.
Figure 6. Hidden IED
- NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions, (NATO Standardisation Agency, 2007, Brussels), 2
- James Bevan, Conventional Ammunition in Surplus, (Small Arms Survey, 2008, Geneva), 2
Bevan, James, Conventional Ammunition in Surplus, (Small Arms Survey, 2008, Geneva)
King, Colin, Jane’s Mines and Mine Clearance 2002, (Jane’s Information Group, 2002, Surrey)
Lintern, Neil, “Kosovan Photographs.” 2013. Authors private collection.
Smith, Andy, Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) Generic Standard Operating Procedures, (United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), 2009, New York)
Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian De-mining (GICHD), International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) Edition 2010, (GICHD, 2010, Geneva)
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions, (NATO Standardisation Agency, 2007, Brussels)
GICHD, “Homepage”, Accessed 22 November, 2017.
Mines Advisory Group, “Homepage”, Accessed 21 November, 2017.
The Halo Trust, “Homepage”, Accessed 22 November, 2017.