Two security forces personnel lost their lives while on patrol in Tirah valley, deep in Khyber Agency. The cause: a roadside Improvised Explosive Device (IED), the leading cause of death in military operations against terrorists. An IED is an unconventional explosive weapon that can take any form and be activated in a variety of ways. Most IED are homemade; cobbled together using scrap metal, ball bearings, kitchen utensils and rudimentary electronics. As a result they can take any shape and size, and are difficult to guard against. The adaptability and the versatility of IEDs has made it the prime weapon of terrorists – a crude, brute force weapon that takes little to manufacture and produces spectacular results. The IED has become more dangerous than a bullet or a rocket. 63 % of US casualties in the Iraq war were caused by IEDs; the figure stands at 66% for the Afghan war, and similar numbers can be found in Pakistan’s military operations near the Durrand line. As the militant’s infrastructure is broken down and their ability to wage conventional warfare weakened, more and more of them will turn towards IEDs as the go-to instrument of waging war.

Countering IEDs is a difficult task, considering the wide range of ways they can be deployed, but it is a task the government must turn its attention to. So far the government has made several good decisions in this regard. In March, last year, the government signed a deal with the US to acquire 140 mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles. The heavily armoured vehicles acquitted themselves well in Iraq and Afghanistan and the state needs to deploy them in patrol operations. Acquiring similar technology for law enforcement agencies should be the next objective. IEDs usually do not have a large blast radius or a destructive fireball; it relies on high velocity shrapnel – such as nails, bolts and scrap metal – to do the damage. Providing soldiers with advanced body armour will greatly minimize the casualties. The government can also put its indigenously developed drone technology to good use; using them to scout ahead for potential booby traps before ground forces pass through.

Despite developing a vast array of sensors, jammers and robots, the most effective way of guarding against IEDs remains human vigilance. The government needs to secure places where IEDs could be potentially placed; such as blocking drain pipes which flow under roads and clearing dense foliage near busy routes. It also needs to train law enforcement to identify potential traps as well as dismantling the terrorist support structure by apprehending bomb makers.