Like all wars, the war in Afghanistan must someday end. But the end of its signature weapon may not arrive on the same schedule.
Insurgents’ homemade bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, look increasingly like a lasting fixture on the early-21st century battlefield. The Pentagon’s bomb squad warns that the cheap, easily fabricated family of explosives are spreading all around the world. But it doesn’t know how long the devices themselves last.
The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, JIEDDO, collects sheafs of data about the bombs. It knows what sorts of materials go into the bombs, where the materials come from, what countermeasures succeed at stopping the blasts (and which ones fail), and how many of them turn out to be duds. But to date, it hasn’t acquired any data about the lifespan of an improvised explosive device. “There are no historical records or analysis documenting how effective emplaced and undetonated IEDs may become over time,” David Small, JIEDDO’s spokesman, tells Danger Room.
That means the U.S. is largely blind to how long an explosive device nestled in an Afghan culvert will remain a threat to civilians even after the hypothetical day when insurgents close their bomb factories. (After all, those factories don’t stamp a date of manufacture on their deadly weapons.) The fact is IEDs are constructed to kill people with minimal technological sophistication. They’re not constructed to be durable. But the science associated with the materials used in the bombs indicates that they’re likely to remain lethal for a year or more after they’re assembled.