Safety Handbook for Journalists

6. Landmine and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Awareness


Mines are combat weapons (special ammunition) designed to destroy enemy manpower and equipment and to demolish roads and various structures for the purpose of reducing the rate of advance of enemy troops and complicating their manoeuvre.

A mine consists of a charge of explosives, an activating (response) device, a fuse, and a case (metal, wood, plastic, etc.).

Mines generally come in two categories:

Anti-tank mines are larger and have greater explosive power. They typically require a heavier weight or movement to activate the mine, but this may not be the case if they are old and unstable. They will break a tank track and damage part of its suspension, but will cause almost total destruction to a non-armoured vehicle.

Anti-personnel mines are smaller. Some are designed to cause injury by blowing off a hand or foot. Others can do much more serious, even lethal, damage. Anti-personnel mines injure or kill through blast or fragmentation. The casing of fragmentation mines breaks into small fragments or which contain fragments that are dispersed upon explosion.

  • Most anti-personnel mines are buried in the ground.
  • Some have a first explosive charge underneath which, when activated, makes the mine jump about a metre above the ground, where it then explodes.
  • Trip wires, which are generally hard to see and are very dangerous, detonate some mines.
  • Some have fusing systems that are pull activated, detonating when pressure is put on the trip wire, or are triggered by pressure release, and detonate when the trip wire is cut.
  • Some anti-personnel mine systems are interconnected and have sensors. If someone approaches one mine will explode. The others will explode when a second person approaches – for example, a rescue team – to help the victim of the first mine victim.
  • Many mines have a metallic content, which is why metal detectors are used. In recent times mines have been produced in plastic forms to inhibit detection by metal detectors.
  • Some mines have a magnetic-influenced, anti-handling device – i.e. the magnetic field of the metal detector will trigger detonation. Fortunately, these are rare.

Anti-Personnel mines are usual also located around Anti-Tank mines

  • If you come across a trip wire, never try to cut it, do not approach it and do not touch it.
  • Leave the area in the direction you came from, checking systematically for trip wires along your extraction route.
  • Note that trip wires are not put only at ankle height, but can be higher, for example at chest level.
  • Knowledge of where major sieges and battles have taken place and where major defensive positions were, as well as day-to-day terrain awareness, will make you more alert to obvious risk areas.

Mines are generally laid for three purposes:

  1. Armed groups lay mines to defend their military positions, 
  2. to disrupt enemy movements, to deny the enemy access to a certain route or 
  3. to channel the enemy onto a certain route:

Minefields can be expected around bunkers and trenches, and on or alongside bridges and roads. Where towns and cities are besieged, both sides may be laying mines. Mines are often laid in non-systematic ways: they can be scattered into enemy territory from planes and helicopters, or delivered by artillery. In guerrilla or insurgency warfare, many groups’ plant mines indiscriminately without ever keeping or passing on records.

Mines are positioned to protect socioeconomic targets from sabotage and attack. They can also surround targets such as power pylons, water and electricity plants and railroad junctions. 

Mines can also cause general terror and dislocation. Additionally, mines are used in more generalised warfare to target civilians and their assets: grazing and agricultural land, irrigation canals, wells, forest areas where firewood is collected, temples and even village paths can all be mined. The purpose is to dislocate a local population, which may be providing support to the enemy, and to create panic.

The main sources of general and locality-specific information will be:

  • Local authorities and security forces.
  • Demining organisations.
  • UN military observers or peacekeepers.
  • Hospitals and health posts where mine casualties may be treated.
  • Local knowledge is especially important: when venturing into new areas where there is active fighting or there has been in the past, stop regularly and ask local people about mines in the vicinity. While this takes time, it may save lives. Build this extra time into the journey plan.

Landmine Indicators:

  • Abandoned ammo boxes or cans.
  • Destroyed vehicles.
  • Avoided certain roads or paths.
  • Suspicious metal or wooden objects.
  • Characteristic crater.
  • Unused fertile land.
  • Unharvested ripe crops.
  • Tripwires.
  • Tilt rods.
  • Note that mines can move over time.
  • Local behaviour.
  • Recognising mined areas
  • Checkpoints.
  • Bottlenecks.
  • Bends or dips in the road.
  • Road verges or ditches.
  • In road potholes.
  • Any debris.
  • In and around craters or obstacles.
  • Parking areas and road junctions.
  • Abandoned vehicles and equipment.
  • Formerly occupied positions.
  • Former defensive positions.
  • Prominent infrastructure.
  • Airports and airfields.
  • Former areas of battle.

Action on finding yourself in a minefield

  • Movement stops immediately. Stop! Remain still and do not move your feet.
  • Inform and warn people around you. Call for help but keep others away
  • Note the area. What else can you see: mines, tripwires? Visually locate the nearest safe area, the last place you definitely knew you were on a safe surface
  • Evaluate your course of action – think before you act
  • Do not move if you can’t reach a safe area without stepping on unknown ground – Wait for help to arrive

Prodding is an extremely risky mine-discovery technique. It should only be used if there are no other options available, for example:

  • Look
  • Feel
  • Prod
  • Mark
  • Avoid

Driving in landmine areas

It is always advised to avoid any area suspected having mines in it. Use your knowledge and map study and use alternative roads to avoid such areas. If you have to drive in such areas you should be aware of the following:

  • Stick to a hard surface.
  • Follow existing tyre tracks.
  • Spacing.
  • Avoid detours.
  • Avoid potholes, foreign objects.
  • When driving, try to use tarmac roads only, and avoid driving into potholes as these may be mined.
  • If the tarmac suddenly ends and becomes a dirt track, it may be wiser to turn back if you don’t know what lies ahead.
  • Watch for obvious signs of mines, including a crater from an explosion, a torn shoe, the carcass of an animal, a wrecked vehicle, a road that appears not to be used, a field that is overgrown and not cultivated in an otherwise populated area or a building with the roof, shutters and doors intact while other buildings have had these looted or removed.

Above all: if in doubt, turn back

  • A non-armoured vehicle cannot be protected from a mine. However, putting sandbags about 10cm thick on the cabin floor under each passenger may reduce the risk of serious injury.
  • The basic assumption must be: where there is one mine, there are more.
  • If a mine explodes or you suspect that you are in a mined area, never act impulsively:
  • Do not drive impulsively up to another vehicle that has been hit by a mine.
  • Control yourself and your colleagues and act carefully and cautiously to avoid further casualties.

Improvised Explosive Devices (IED)

An IED is a device placed or fabricated in an improvised manner incorporating destructive, lethal, noxious, pyrotechnic, or incendiary chemicals and designed to destroy, incapacitate, harass, or distract. It may incorporate military stores, but is normally devised from non-military components- IED are non-standard, and usually fabricated from common materials. IEDs may range in size from a cigarette pack to a large vehicle.

IED explosions can take many formats: mechanical and chemical. IEDs have three main components:

  • Primer (or initiator)
  • Ignited (which transmits the detonation to the explosive component)
  • Main Charge (the explosives)

Explosive types

There are three main explosives: chemical, mechanical, and nuclear (so far no nuclear IED has been used)

Chemical (High Explosives) undergoes a very rapid combustion releasing large volumes of highly heated gases.

Mechanical: (Low Explosives) Utilises a container to confine gas pressure until it ruptures. There are three effects associated with a detonation of an explosive device:

Simple things like paying attention, not getting complacent, and not setting patterns will raise your survivability.

Setting patterns is a perfect example. Habits are acceptable when life is routine, but no day in a conflict zone is routine. Sometimes setting a pattern cannot be helped; there are only a certain number of roads in a given area and only a certain number of hours in the day. There are times, however, when the only thing that keeps us from setting a pattern is our vigilance. Examine your own operations every day and ask yourself, “What can we do differently tomorrow?”

IED makers range from the very sophisticated to the very simple. Some bomb makers employ advanced electronics in their detonation devices, or they build large, well-concealed IEDs. The bolder among this type of insurgent will follow up on an IED attack with additional IEDs, small arms fire, indirect fire, or rocket propelled grenades (RPGs).

IED Acronyms

You should understand a few key abbreviations used to describe IEDs.


(radio controlled IED): Initiated electronically with a wireless method consisting of a transmitter and a receiver (e.g., radio, key fob, cordless telephone). Radio-controlled is the most common method of IED initiation in asymmetric warfare. The combatants use a variety of remote-controlled devices to activate IEDs. They have modified car alarms, garage door openers, car door openers, toy car or aeroplane controllers, wireless doorbells, long-range cordless phones, and Family Radio System (FRS) radios.


(command wire IED): Initiated with a wire and power source. Command wire IEDs take time for the bomber to emplace. The wire leading from the device to the firing point may be concealed. The firing point is fixed. Recent improvements in this capability include micro-thin wires that make it more difficult to visually detect the wire leading to the device.


(Victim operated IED): A booby-trap initiated by the actions of an unsuspecting person. IEDs are problem enough, and now the enemy has added booby traps to some IEDs making the device a victim operated IED (VOIED). Bombers have used VOIEDs in locations where personnel might easily find them or have been observed handling found IEDs. The initiation systems range from the simple pull pin pictured below, to much more complicated devices.


(Vehicle borne IED): A vehicle filled with explosives, then driven to a target and detonated while either moving or static.


Another system that could be used by bombers is the collapsing circuit IED. This device is designed to go off when the loop (bait) wire is cut.

Lesson learned: DO NOT CUT WIRES. Bombers have numerous variations on anti-handling devices. There is only one way to be certain when dealing with a suspicious object.

Timed IEDs

Timers are normally used to act as a safe separation timer. On a few occasions they will be used to initiate the device. When used as the former, it separates the power source from the electric blasting caps to provide the enemy with a safer system to employ. This technique allows unskilled emplaces to arm a device with less likelihood of error.

Where do bombers place IEDs?

  • Where there are military locations.
  • IEDs will be found on, under, or beside roads, tracks.
  • Where there is a high volume of coalition traffic.
  • IEDs appear along the shoulder of the road or in the medians of divided highways and streets.
  • They may be in culverts, or placed on the inside of turns in the road in an attempt to catch you cutting corners.
  • IEDs placed near main supply routes military target patrols.

Particular attention should be paid to choke points, such as traffic circles or bridges, turn around points at boundaries, and intersections.

Concealing IEDs

Bombers use many forms of concealment for IEDs. Anything that can conceal an artillery round might be used to hide an IED. Roadside debris makes IED recognition difficult. The following illustrations are just a few of the more common concealment methods found in many countries, which include:

  • Dirt piles
  • Gravel
  • Rubbish piles
  • Culverts
  • Brush
  • Street lighting poles
  • Telegraph poles
  • Electricity pylons
  • Trees
  • Vehicles
  • Dead animals
  • Dead human beings
  • Holes in the road

General mitigation measures in relation to the IED threat:

  • Trust your instincts. If something does not seem right it probably isn’t. Be aware of your surroundings (situational awareness).
  • Watch the local behaviour in your area of operation; are people moving away from you or your element acting or appearing nervous?
  • Be aware of persons with photograph equipment. Most bombers like their work filmed.

IED Discovery Protocol:

  • Do not touch the device
  • Note location and description
  • Move to a safe area at least 300 metres away then report the location and description to the local authorities and stop the search
  • Ensure all teams know that a device was found
  • Evacuate the building
  • Keep everyone away from the area
  • Do not use radios/cell phones in the immediate vicinity of a suspect item.
  • Make certain that whoever found the item or witnessed the incident remains on hand to brief the police or security forces.

Vehicle Borne IED safety distance