11 Jul 14. Miles away from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices are wreaking havoc in other parts of the world. Colombia, Pakistan, India and Syria rank high on a list of countries where this “invisible enemy” is leaving a trail of deaths and injuries.
In Latin America, most notably in Colombia, insurgents and criminal organizations build and employ bombs with the intent to cause devastation to government forces as well as innocent civilians. In fact, IEDs have become the weapon of choice of these organizations, desperate to find a force multiplier as they experience increased personnel losses.
“According to statistics, Colombia ranks first in the world, outside of Afghanistan and Iraq, in IED incidents,” said Juan Hurtado, science advisor at the U.S. Southern Command, the U.S. military geographic command that works with countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean to promote security and stability in the Western Hemisphere.
These deadly devices are made out of commercial-grade explosives, various explosive precursors, fertilizer, nails, nuts, bolts, and other objects.
In less than a year, between March 2013 and February 2014, a total of 2,356 IED events were reported in Colombia. The aftermath: 707 casualties, according to statistics compiled by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.
JIEDDO was established by the Defense Department in 2006 in response to the alarming increase in fatalities and injuries caused by roadside bombs and other makeshift artifacts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Within Southcom’s area of responsibility, Colombia has 95 percent of all IED activity and 98 percent of all IED-related injuries.
To help change this concerning reality, Hurtado said, Southcom and JIEDDO have joined efforts, through the U.S. Military Group in Colombia, to collaborate with the Colombian military and police in search of cooperative and innovative ways for IED threat mitigation. The idea is to leverage the painful lessons learned and investments made during years in research and development, and to harness the “brain power” of Colombian and U.S. experts committed to this fight.
“A key element in this formula is the world-class support we are receiving from JIEDDO,” Hurtado said. “They have dealt with this threat for almost a decade, and they are eager to share lessons learned and benefit from the experiences of others.”
The science and technology division that Hurtado heads at Southcom hosts JIEDDO experts and coordinates counter-IED support on behalf of the command’s theater engagement division. His main efforts, he said, are to scope the level of activities, enable collaboration to assist regional requirements and formulate a sustainable path.
Together, Hurtardo said, they are working with the U.S. Embassy Country Team, the U.S. Military Group and Colombia’s organizations such as the office of the vice minister of defense, the Joint Directorate for Explosives and Demining — known as DICED, its Spanish acronym — and the Colombian army’s Counter IED and Mines National Center — known as CENAM, its Spanish acronym — in advancing a roadmap for collaboration against IEDs — the weapon of choice for insurgents and criminal organizations in Colombia.
As the Colombian government increases pressure against FARC — the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — the group desperately looks for new ways to offset its losses and delay the advance of the public forces into territories under their control, illegal coca cultivation areas and illicit drug labs, said Charles Brady, JIEDDO’s liaison officer and counter-IED integrator to Southcom.
According to CENAM officials, about 75 percent of the events affecting Colombian troops are related to IED incidents. Stood up in 2014, CENAM was created to assist with the IED challenges with a holistic approach, in cooperation with other government and nongovernment national and internatio