Page last updated at 11:29 GMT, Monday, 14 December 2009

Growing menace of Afghan IEDs

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has outlined fresh efforts to counter roadside bombs which have led to rising UK deaths in Afghanistan.

Plans include specialist training and new hi-tech and robot mine detectors to target improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which the Ministry of Defence says are being produced on an "industrial scale".

Graphic: IED

1. ROADSIDE IED: Hidden insurgent detonates device by wire
2. REMOTE DETONATION: Bombs can also be set off by radio or mobile phone signal
3. LANDMINE: Buried below the road surface, detonated by pressure of passing vehicle

Since the beginning of 2009 IEDs, often in the form of roadside bombs, have accounted for the deaths of 259 International Security Force [Isaf] personnel, according to the monitoring website

IEDs were a highly successful tactic for insurgents in Iraq.

The devices had accounted for 40% of coalition deaths up to the end of 2007, and fighters developed increasingly sophisticated techniques such as remote detonation and sequenced attacks.

2006: 41
2007: 78
2008: 152
2009: 259
Isaf deaths in Afghanistan attributed to IEDs, per year.

However, a senior military analyst from defence group Jane's told the BBC that there were differences in Afghan methods.

"Recent technological developments [in IEDs] in Iraq have passed Afghanistan by somewhat, the main reason being that the Afghans have their own experience stemming from the Soviet invasion in 1979.

"A large proportion of what are termed 'IEDs' in Afghanistan are simply landmines left over from the Russian occupation. These work in the conventional way, detonated by pressure, or are hooked up to artillery shells and detonated by wire."


IEDs prey on the need for coalition forces to use slow-moving convoys of heavy vehicles to replenish smaller units fighting in the mountains and deserts.

The IED itself consists of an adapted landmine or artillery shell rigged up to a makeshift detonator.

Dragonrunner robot
1. The robot is fitted with a camera which relays images back to the operator via a hand-held control panel. Single and multiple views are possible.
2. The arm can be fitted with a variety of attachments to enable the robot to pick things up, move them and even dig.
3. The robot, which fits inside a backpack, copes well on rugged terrain because of its robust, off-road tracks.

The bombs are often placed on a roadside and can be detonated by wire by a hidden insurgent when military vehicles pass.

In Iraq, bombs are typically hidden inside dead animals or drinks cans and other litter beside the road.

More sophisticated IEDs are rigged up to tripwires which act as booby traps, or detonated via radio or mobile phone signals.

The "success" of an IED depends on the quality of explosives and materials available, and the skill of the bomb maker.

In Iraq, insurgents would sometimes block a road with a bus or other vehicles to halt a convoy in precisely the position for IEDs to inflict maximum damage.

The bombs are usually designed to explode underneath or at the side of a vehicle where armoured plating may be thinner and weaker.

Since April, British troops have been using the Dragon Runner, as well as larger bomb disposal robots such as the Wheelbarrow, to help combat the IEDs.

The government's announcement of 400 robot detectors includes 100 Dragon Runners - of which 30 are already in operation in Afghanistan.

Protection questioned

The growing menace of IEDs has also called into question whether certain armoured vehicles are offering enough protection.

Ground forces have long had to balance the need for heavy armour against speed and mobility.

Numerous British casualties from IEDs in Iraq were attributed to the use of fast but lightly armoured Snatch Land Rovers, many of which had been redeployed from Northern Ireland.

The similarly light armour of the Viking BVS10 Haggslunds vehicle was cited as a factor in the death of Lt-Col Rupert Thorneloe, the highest-ranking British army officer to be killed in action since 1982.

Plans are under way to replace light armour with a new generation of heavy duty Mine Resistant Armoured Protection [Mrap] vehicles such as the Mastiff II, based on the US Cougar model.

Despite this, and given the vast amount of munitions available in the country, analysts warn that no amount of armour will ever guarantee protection against a large, well-placed bomb.

Graphic: Viking & Mastiff compared
Weight: 12,744kg
Max speed: 65km/h
Weapons: GPMG 7.62 mm, HMG 0.5 inch, 2 smoke grenade dischargers
Weight: 23,500kg
Max. speed: 90km/h
Weapons: 7.62 GPMG, HMG 0.5 inch, 40 mm automatic grenade launcher
Source: MOD

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