Imagine that you hear sirens, shouting and screaming; you can see flashing lights and people running and then, as you leave the safety of your own home, you see an armoured Humvee turning into your street.

As with any crisis situation, you assume that it simply cannot happen to you; but you can hear a voice shouting in a loose imitation of your language. This way! Quickly! The imitative tongue echoes through a megaphone and you watch as frightened children run past with their hands covering their ears, mothers follow, desperately worried, clutching the shaking hands of their youngest. Imagine that all this is happening, and imagine that you might never know who has caused it, imagine that this isn’t the first time that this has happened.

An Improvised Explosive Device, or IED for short, is exactly what it sounds like. In essence, it is an explosive device that has been crafted in a way not deemed to be militarily conventional; therefore, the nature of an IED is almost exclusively suited to terrorist, paramilitary and guerrilla activity. Now, the primary issue with an IED is that, to a certain extent, it is in untraceable – not in the true sense of the word – but in a sense of the word that means that anyone could make them and that they could be hidden anywhere. Imagine, for example, being told that there is a bomb hidden somewhere on your street, but that the bomb could be anywhere; it could be buried just a few feet below the ground, or else it could be strapped to the underside or inside of a car, it could be hidden inside an envelope that is itself waiting at the bottom of a post box; it could be sitting in a backpack.

…if you attempt to deal with the bomb too hastily then you may accidentally trigger it…

IED 2Now imagine that you have to find the bomb, you know that it could be anywhere and that it could go off at any time, and you know that because it could go off at any time you have to find it quickly; but, as if that weren’t enough, if you attempt to deal with the bomb too hastily then you may accidentally trigger it. And finally imagine that the bomb-maker was just an ordinary man who built the device out of everyday items; maybe he stripped down a petrol lawnmower and combined it with a long fuse and a firework. All of these things, and many more besides, are a constant concern in the minds of soldiers, civilians and IED specialists the world over.

Now perhaps we can begin to understand why these Improvised Devices are such a concern; their relatively everyday production process and the ease with which they can be hidden, combined with the massive and devastating impact that they can have makes sure that they are truly a potential threat to everyone. Perhaps one main problem is that IEDs, as opposed to their militarily controlled counterparts, are, by their very nature, inexact and, in a sense, unbiased. What I mean by that, in short, is that an IED is an unstable and unmonitored weapon; of course any death or any explosion is a horrible thing, but with a militarily controlled explosive attack we can at least hope that there is a clear military objective, or at the very least some level of accountability. The main difference between an IED and its military counterpart therefore lies in the motive behind it – an Improvised Device can be built by anyone with a need for vengeance, by anyone with a strong enough religious ideal, by anyone with a personal or societal vendetta.

…maim, kill and otherwise slow down the enemy…

Historically, Improvised Explosive Devices were first used during the Battle of the Somme; soldiers on either side, after losing control of one part of the front or another, would leave behind Booby Traps, IEDs crafted from whatever mixture of explosive and debris was at hand, in order to maim, kill and otherwise slow down the enemy soldiers moving into the lost trench. Since then, Improvised Devices have played some part in almost every human war or conflict. During The Troubles in Ireland, the IRA made extensive use of the Devices, typically using timed triggers, to devastating effect. More recently in Libya and Egypt IEDs have been used by rebels and government forces alike to further their military position; and of course in the Middle East, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Improvised Devices have been used perpetually since the beginning of the war in 2001.

There are three non-warzone events in particular that I would also like to mention – events that, especially in the countries involved, have hit far closer to home than those of the countries already mentioned.

…700 were injured…

Madrid, the 11 March, 2004: three days before the Spanish General Election and exactly two and half years after 9/11; ten out of thirteen IEDs placed upon commuter trains were detonated; one hundred-ninety-one people were killed. The Madrid Train Bombings marked the largest European terrorist attack since the Lockerbie Bombings in 1988. Two hundred people were killed by ten bombs planted by, investigators assume, no more than twenty suspects.

The second event, of course, occurred in London. It has become known in the time since as 7/7. Four bombs exploded on the morning of July 7th, 2005; four bombs were all that was needed to bring London, and Great Britain, to a standstill; fifty-two civilians were killed that day and more than 700 were injured. Fifty-two people were killed by four bombs planted by four suspects.

…herein lies with the ratio of deaths to every bomb…

The final event, and perhaps, as a result of its recent occurrence, the best remembered happened in the United States. On April 15th, 2013, on the day of the Boston Marathon, two Pressure Cooker Bombs were detonated killing three and injuring 264. Three dead by two bombs planted by two suspects.

Perhaps the clearest pattern herein lies with the ratio of deaths to every bomb. In Madrid, twenty people for every bomb detonated; the men that planted the bombs became mass-murderers as soon as the explosives were triggered. In London, thirteen people died for every bomb detonated; the men that planted those bombs became mass-murders in the blink of an eye. In Boston, one and a half people died for every detonated bomb; and, when considering the incident in regards to the possibility listed in the two previous attacks, it could have been a lot worse.

…a forty-five year old woman lost her leg after stepping on a hidden IED in Nepal…

IEDThese three events will remain as little red dots in human history for many years to come; their bloody nature and the spectacle that they create being more than enough to strike fear into the heart of any person unused to war or conflict. But, as I said at the beginning of the article, imagine that this is not a rare occurrence. I included these three events in this article as a reminder that, although we can appreciate their horror at their respective times, these events are occurring on an almost daily, or at least weekly, basis. On July 19th, 2013, five civilians were killed by a roadside IED in Afghanistan; on July 19th, 2013, two paramilitary troops were killed were killed in a blast in Pakistan; on July 19th, 2013, a forty-five year old woman lost her leg after stepping on a hidden IED in Nepal. The three events in Madrid, London and Boston occurred over a space of ten years; the three events in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal happened in a single day.

The number of deaths that have occurred as a result of IEDs since the beginning of their usage is uncountable and is, in itself, astounding; but the number of people affected by IEDs far exceeds even that. I don’t suppose that we could calculate how many people have been killed by these Improvised Devices, and I am certain that we could never count the number affected.

…a child will wake up knowing that they will never see their father again…

A soldier that steps upon an Improvised Explosive will lose his life in one way or another; he may carry on breathing and his blood may continue to pump, but he will never be the same. An act of random anger, or vengeance, or aggression could mean death, but it could also mean that somewhere, hundreds or even thousands of miles away, a child will wake up knowing that they will never see their father again, it could mean that a wife will be left in tears, kneeling at the grave of her husband, it could mean that an Iraqi woman will open the door to find her child being carried lifeless towards her. War is the death of innocence in more ways than one.

I do not suppose that anybody began reading this article with that hope that there would be a happy ending; I do not suppose that anybody began reading this article hoping that IEDs might somehow be a force for good. The simple fact is that, wherever the device and whatever the consequence, someone will feel sadness for those lost. The simple fact is that an Improvised Explosive Device is, by its very nature, concealable and creatable. Their inexactitude combined with killing potential means that an IED is always a threat – an unpredictable and imprecise weapon. Not everyone could make an IED; there are, of course, certain skillsets and tangents of knowledge that are required – but the figures prove, and this is the fact that I am reiterating, that it is far within the realms of human ability.

…He is dressed in bomb disposal gear…

I would like to end this article by returning to the scene with which it began. Remember the scared street, and now imagine a single man. He is dressed in bomb disposal gear: thick clothing dragging heavy with all manner of precautionary material; a thick helmet with bulletproof glass muffles his hearing and sight. He is walking forward down the now deserted street, vacant cars and empty doorways watch him ambivalently. Several hundred feet behind him stand two of his colleagues, friends that he has come to know over the past days, weeks and years; thousands of miles away his wife is sitting happily with her two children on either side. Every person in that street is silent under the blistering sun. Every one of those soldiers is tense for the sign of any movement or any explosion. Every one of those silent soldiers knows that this might be the last ever walk for the man in the Bomb Disposals uniform.

About The Author

A 21 year old English and Creative Writing student at Brunel Uni in Uxbridge. I write about a whole range of subjects and have a keen interest in journalism and writing in general. @BrynWGlover

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.