Improvised explosive devices (IED) are small homemade bombs, made famous recently by the occupation of Iraq by the United States, used to kill soldiers and damage vehicles. In contrast to land-mines, improvised explosive devices are usually manufactured from off-the-shelf components using simple tools and commonly triggered using a mobile phone. The use of improvised explosive devices may be regarded as a form of guerilla warfare, employed by fighters of a poor nation being invaded or occupied by a more technologically advanced force. Improvised explosive devices are responsible for approximately one third of U.S. military deaths in Iraq, a figure which has remained relatively constant with the continued occupation.
The appeal of improvised explosive devices lies in the fact that they can be made from just about anything that explodes coupled with a remotely activated detonator. They are especially useful in urban areas, where it is difficult for the occupying forces to distinguish between innocent civilians and enemy combatants, and the perpetrator can escape into a crowd in the confusion of the explosion. Improvised explosive devices may be cleverly concealed under garbage or positioned in unsuspected places like behind trees or signs.
In the chaos of an invasion, a defeated army generally leaves behind many tons of explosive material to be looted by insurgents. Though these insurgents might lack the necessary technology to make use of the explosives as originally intended, improvised explosive devices can be made from nearly anything. A conventional high explosive payload may be accompanied by toxic chemicals or biological weaponry such as anthrax, adding to the psychological fear factor. With the right knowledge and tools, high explosive can be formed into a shaped charge, like the type used in rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), which creates a lethal plasma jet that no current armor can stop. As of 2006, the U.S. military is pumping many millions of dollars into emergency research programs for finding effective countermeasures to these insidious devices.
IEDs have been used by the guerilla forces of Spain during their civil war, against the Nazis by Belarusians during WWII, and by the radical Islamist militias in Iraq and Afghanistan following the U.S. military invasions there. It is known that foreign specialists sometimes arrive in these hotspots to assist the natives in constructing IEDs, compounding the severity of risk in the area. Perhaps with the right detection or neutralization mechanisms, improvised explosive devices will no longer pose a risk, but today they result in the death or maiming of many unfortunate soldiers.