IED's Complicate War On Terror

Five AP police officers feared dead after a vehicle they were traveling in ran over an IED between Malelei & Kulan in Garissa County a day after 8 officers were killed in Garissa and Mandera county in similar attacks.Photo/COURTESY
Five AP police officers feared dead after a vehicle they were traveling in ran over an IED between Malelei & Kulan in Garissa County a day after 8 officers were killed in Garissa and Mandera county in similar attacks.Photo/COURTESY

I mourn the police officers lost to the attacks in Northeastern through the use of Improvised Explosive Devices. It is a reminder of the men and women who wake up every morning with a mission to protect our country, and whose lives are constantly on the line.

The use of IEDs is unlikely to cease immediately, if global trends and history are anything to go by, so the more informed our citizens are about this tactic, the less potent its political and social effects.

The IED is a "home-made" bomb that comes in many forms and levels of sophistication. They can be concealed along roads, carried in a bag or strapped to the body, or loaded on a car. They are made from commercially available materials or rigged out of military explosives. They are cheap to make and effective in allowing a single device to disrupt troop and civilian movements while concealing the individual deploying it.

IEDs are the leading cause of death of soldiers and police forces worldwide, fighting terrorists and insurgent groups. As of 2013, our research shows they were responsible for 70 per cent of fatalities in foreign armies operating in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Action on Armed Violence, a UK NGO, recorded almost 47,000 fatalities in 2016 from explosives, with 70 per cent of this number being civilians. The majority of these deaths were caused by IEDs. In earlier research, this time specifically on harm from IEDs in 2011-16, AOAV recorded 7,223 IED attacks worldwide, causing over 124,000 fatalities and injuries, 81 per cent being civilian.

A disproportionate amount of the harm, up to 90 per cent, was from attacks in populated areas even though only 58 per cent of the IEDs were used there. In six years, 85 countries recorded at least one IED attack. Between 2011-13, there was a sharp increase in IED fatalities with a 70 per cent rise in civilian deaths.

The attacks in Kenya have been carried out by small groups of al Shabaab terrorists, to remain relevant, given the pressure from security forces, by disrupting normal life and to sustain a narrative of the ungovernability in the Northeastern. The switch to targetting our police and military forces is also a reaction to Kenyans' refusal to accede to al Shabaab attempts to divide us along religious lines through the brutal murder of Christians. This Kenyan spirit is best exemplified by Salah Farah, the Muslim schoolteacher who died for refusing to walk away from Kenyan Christians when militants hijacked a bus with the aim of murdering Christians near El Wak in December 2015.

The threat to civilians remains high, and constant vigilance is critical even as al Shabaab heeds al Qaeda calls to seek popular support by trying to craft a fresh image as an insurgent group fighting security forces rather than a murderous group targetting civilians. However, the present IED campaign is nothing more than a tactic: Al Shabaab has no realistic hope of winning a military war against Kenya. Its core competence is still in the use of savage violence against civilians to attain its financial, political and ideological aims.

The police should be commended for making speedy arrests and taking actions to disrupt other planned IED attacks. As a security community, we are escalating our efforts to provide officers with the ability to recognise, avoid and respond to IEDs.

The complication, globally, is that dealing with such threats increasingly calls for quasi-military skills and equipment that have not been traditionally been understood as part of the police capability kit. US-led coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have also shown that even with the massive financial and military forces at their disposal, it is difficult to "out-armour" IEDs due to the constant innovation in their design, size and blast power in response to counter-measures.

To succeed in mitigating this threat, and others employed by terrorists, it requires our security efforts be strongly supported by Parliament, political and community leadership, and, crucially, every citizen particularly in areas close to the Somalia border. Beyond the necessary changes in equipment, a social and logistical network is required to carry out an IED operation. Disrupting it, therefore, requires good intelligence work, and community members and leaders who share information about what they know.

Trends elsewhere in the world are a cautionary tale for Kenyans. As I have shown, the dominant use of IEDs is on civilian targets in populated areas. Communities along the border should, therefore, be aware that this form of attack, left unchallenged by all of us, is likely to migrate into our towns and cities. It is, therefore, imperative that Kenyans, who hear or learn of individuals making an IED or laying one, understand it is a sacred and constitutional duty to ensure the authorities are informed immediately.

If you are a business owner who sells or stores chemicals in your premises, you are an integral part of protecting this country. You should check your inventory and report any missing chemicals or commercial explosives. Make sure you know your customers. Landlords and transport owners should be on the lookout for those utilising their facilities in secrecy and any unusual smells and fumes from rooms or containers.

It would also do for political and community leaders, especially in the areas where IED attacks are being conducted, to come out and strongly condemn these actions. We need to stigmatise their use.

Ambassador Martin Kimani, PhD, EBS, is the Director of the National Counter Terrorism Centre and Special Envoy for Countering Violent Extremism. Twitter: @AmbMKimani