IEDs, which accounted for three-quarters of British deaths in Afghanistan last year, may make the war impossible to win.
Immortalised in popular culture by the Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are the ideal metaphor for the American-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite all its firepower and money, the US has been unable to defuse these weapons of the weak.
What Viet Cong punji sticks were to napalm in Vietnam, IEDs are to unmanned drones in Afghanistan and Iraq. They remain the biggest killer of western troops. Of British casualties in 2009, 75% were a result of IED explosions.
The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards recently returned to the UK after six months in Helmand where they had been engaged in more than 1,300 gunfights and had come across more than 500 IEDs – 62 of which had gone off. The US military recorded 8,159 IED incidents in Afghanistan in 2009, compared with 3,867 in 2008 and 2,677 the year before. Denis MacShane argued recently that troops being sent to Afghanistan were "IED fodder".