The improvised explosive device, or IED, is the deadliest weapon in the arsenal of Afghanistan’s insurgents, and they know how to use it to best effect.

Though the Taliban or other insurgent groups have proven to be a smart and adaptable foe, fighting for the most part on their own territory, any time they have massed troops and attempted to fight coalition forces in a conventional manner, the result has been devastating – a sound defeat with major losses. For that reason, the enemy has turned to the weapon that works – the IED.

The Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has recognized it as the greatest danger to both coalition forces and the Afghan civilian population. In an effort to minimize this deadly tool, ISAF instituted in-theatre counter IED, or CIED, training.

As a rule, pre-operational training is the responsibility of contributing nations to any NATO action. To that end, member nations have ratified an agreement on CIED pre-deployment training. However, as is often the case in large alliances, while this agreement describes in detail what skills troops must have prior to deployment into IED operational environments, it has no enforcement teeth and is written in such a manner as to be only a guide.

Consequently, troop contingents arrive in theatre with varied levels of CIED training. Some nations have outstanding training curricula and their troops turn up ready to work in the IED environment, needing only an update on current intelligence before being deployed. Britain, the U.S. and Canada provide particularly well-trained combat troops.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, are those nations whose contingents arrive with little or no CIED training. Many others fall somewhere in between. Interestingly, while U.S. fighting forces are exceptionally well trained in CIED, their supporting troops enter theatre with almost no CIED awareness training.

To counter that, it fell to the in-theatre commander to institute a training program to ensure that all soldiers arriving in Afghanistan are brought up to date on the current threat and the enemy’s techniques, tactics and procedures (TTPs), and that they have the basic skills necessary to recognize the signs of IED emplacement and how to avoid and/or isolate the device(s). This, in turn, allows the specialist bomb disposal teams to render the device safe while clearing the area of other IEDs and latent booby traps set to catch the disposal teams.

Although American forces took charge of training U.S. troops in their area of responsibility, especially in the eastern region of Afghanistan, ISAF HQ training teams must impart the required CIED knowledge to American as well as all other allied troops in other areas of the country.

And with the recent sudden build-up of American forces, the influx of untrained troops placed a enormous burden on ISAF teams, which had to instruct up to one thousand U.S. soldiers per day, seven days a week for a period of three months. To ensure the flow of troops was not interrupted, this training was conducted fifteen hours per day in desert conditions of 50 degrees Celsius.

There were no additional trained personnel to alleviate the burden, and we came very close to burning out our trainers.

Language barrier
To deliver the in-theatre training, Commander ISAF created a training cell within the ISAF HQ CIED Branch. This cell, headed by a Canadian, is a multinational team of both military and civilian trainers skilled in CIED methodologies and knowledgeable in the enemy’s tactics. Though the team’s mandate is to train all Allied forces in the Afghanistan theatre of operations, it has a secondary duty to assist in CIED training of the Afghanistan security forces – the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.

The CIED training cell formed mobile teams able to travel throughout the country, even into remote regions, to provide IED awareness training to Allied troops as early as possible in their tour of duty. As a result, teams can also tailor courses to specific anomalies that may be prevalent to an area where soldiers are operating.

The courses are a balance of both the theoretical and practical. In the classroom, the troops are instructed in the most up to date IED tactics used by the Taliban. They are also taught specific tactics that may have evolved in the troops’ area of operation. After a series of lectures, troops then traverse a training area set up with various IEDs, emplaced exactly as the enemy would place them. The soldiers, in full battle equipment and with their own vehicles, travel the training area both on foot and mounted, to learn and identify the telltale signs of emplacement and to practice drills that help them discover and avoid IEDs.

The training teams also offer an extended course to selected soldiers from Allied nations to make them basic CIED trainers. In this way, native speaking military personnel can deliver the basic CIED awareness course to their own national contingents in their native language. This has extended the ability of the ISAF CIED branch to reach more troops faster and more efficiently.

The multilingual nature of the Allied force has proved to be a challenge. While English and French are NATO’s official languages, the language of instruction was, for the most part, English. Although many of the trainers were multilingual and some courses could be delivered in French to certain contingents, most national forces did not have enough English speakers in the junior ranks to understand the instructors, especially when the courses were delivered in an Australian, British or southern U.S. accent. Translators were not always able to deliver the exact meaning of the lessons to non-English speakers. Rather than give up in despair, though, instructors often extended training to ensure students received all the knowledge they needed to survive.

This language barrier was particularly evident when called upon to train Afghan security forces. Many of the lectures were translated into Dari and Pashto. However, though interpreters were always part of the training team, translation adds time and pressure to any course – both to the instructor and the students. In addition, many of the lower rank and file in the Afghan army and police are illiterate. As a result, the ISAF HQ CIED training cell developed picture cards for the troops to carry with them describing how to carry out the CIED drills and what to look for.

The CIED Branch training cell accepted the very heavy responsibility of ensure all Allied troops and selected units of the Afghan security forces understand CIED tactics, techniques and procedures to protect themselves from the deadliest weapon in the Afghanistan insurgents’ arsenal. Over 70,000 Allied soldiers were trained in the first nine months of 2009 alone. This training is proving to be an essential strategy in protecting Allied forces and defeating the IED weapon.

Commander Ian Moffat is a Canadian Naval Officer with forty years in the service. He has just returned from Afghanistan where he was the Chief of Counter Improvised Explosive Device (CIED) Training for NATO’s ISAF HQ. He is a PhD candidate at RMC Kingston.