When developing a response to an IED threat it is common to think about each find or strike event in isolation, seeing emplacements as opportunistic or random. Though this might be the case with less mature IED networks, successful application of IEDs comes from emplacers and their supporting network’s establishment of strategic goals and applied purpose for each devise employed. While mature C-IED elements have become adept at identifying emplacement patterns at a high level, it’s critical that intent and contextual drivers are also understood. Understanding this intent is not just important for C-IED leadership and planners, tactical clearance units must also train and operate with a thorough awareness and understanding of enemy perspective.
Context of IED Effect
Comprehensive analysis of enemy intent is essential for route clearance elements to recognize the opposition’s limitations, which are a key component of clearance strategy and its evolution. The networks that employ IEDs successfully have a purpose and desired effect for each IED emplacement. Clearance units that learn to appreciate the thought process and risk that goes along with IED placement are better prepared for, and more adaptable to, the threat.
There’s too much risk involved in IED construction and emplacement for employers to rely solely on opportunistic or random attacks. Successfully employed IEDs are placed deliberately, with a desired effect. Recognizing who is targeted, where, and for what purpose is key to anticipating threat evolution and preventing strikes.
Just like the placement of conventional obstacles, effective IEDs are also used for an effect:
- Destroy: The flexibility of IED triggering mechanisms afford emplacers a range of methods to accurately designate specific targets. These targets may be established by the limits of the IED itself (resource constraints or construction knowledge) or by the desired effect.
- Block: Access denial, achieved through focused employment of IEDs, affords the enemy control of territory with minimal investment in resources and manpower. This major impact at minor expense makes the IED a uniquely valuable tool for resource-constrained insurgents who leverage territorial control for tactical and symbolic effect.
- Turn: Rerouting elements or canalizing them toward secondary threats or follow-on attacks is a common application of IEDs to slow maneuvers or to ensure that intended targets are hit. Due to the point-targeting nature of most IEDs, physical mobility restrictions are frequently incorporated into IED employment to ensure targets have to maneuver onto the threat.
- Fix: The stagnation of maneuver due to IED emplacement (or potential IED emplacement) has arguably become the most impactful effect achieved by emplacers. This is due in part to the effect of an anticipated threat on maneuver and in part to established C-IED elements’ increased prioritization of exploitation and network defeat. IEDs don’t need to have a destructive effect on a target to impact movement. Even intentional halts, for C-IED/EOD elements to execute extended threat exploitation, reduce speed and reach and can enable more effective complex attacks.
- Disrupt: Breaking up a formation or pace, reducing command control, and forcing unplanned resource usage, are all ways that enemy networks can employ IEDs to disrupt. At the macro level, the unpredictability and variability of the IED threat makes it incredibly useful for broader campaigns of disruption to operational maneuverability and control.
Understanding the intent behind IED placement helps guide and prioritize route clearance efforts to identify specific threats and employment methods used, as well as understanding enemy limitations, which is key to applying an appropriate response and anticipating future threat evolutions.
Training in Context
Traditional engineer mobility and counter-mobility tasks have always been viewed with the intent, impact, and resourcing of the enemy in mind, but current clearance training generally focuses more on isolated threat detection and neutralization. Training to respond to devices in isolation of appropriate context often leads to the prioritization of threat classification that does not take into account the reason why a specific threat is where it is. Too often, training lanes establish IEDs as boogeymen, which could be anywhere at any time, and while recognition of the complexity and variety of IED triggers is important, training with no context often serves only to scare personnel into thinking that anything could be a threat. An IED training surrogate can be placed anywhere, and they often are used only as a means to “punish” units in training for bad tactical habits. However, this can subconsciously reinforce uninformed clearance habits. If Soldiers in training are always looking for threats that are placed to reinforce a trainer’s narrative, they don’t have to associate the environmental conditions that inform a threat's construction and employment.
Clearance units are well trained to recognize and respond to a wide variety of explosive threats (knowing the components of different IEDs and what actions to take when one is found), but they are operationally vulnerable without a comprehensive understanding of the factors the surround the device itself. One of the best ways to address this is by having clearance units train as emplacers. Building, emplacing, and employing functional devices is one of the best ways to appreciate the limitations of certain devices, risk of emplacement, and value of purpose behind each IED.
In order to better inform decisions in the field, it’s vital that route clearance training is practiced and implemented without placing a bubble around each threat. Purposeful, effective mission planning and execution happens more intuitively when the intent behind placement is understood. This, in turn, streamlines clearance operations, because personnel can anticipate intuitively, respond to likely threats, and aren't hesitating because of every scuff of dirt or out-of-place rock.
Practice Makes Perfect
The very nature of the IED threat demands an adaptable, versatile response every time route clearance personnel go on a mission. The best way to ensure units are prepared for this is to implement a strategy for both training and mission execution that thoroughly considers the enemy perspective. While opportunistic IED employment does occur, clearance personnel must always attempt to understand the why behind each potential threat.