The bombing wave last weekend in Thailand illustrates an important lesson for American First Responders in recognizing and understanding what to do in the face of this lethal IED tactic. This lesson is instilled in both the US Military and Thai police continuously because it is so lethal, and is one of the most important points of safety in any bombing incident.
The secondary device is one that is taught in almost all IED awareness classes. But for most of the instruction I have sat in on to observe, the correct emphasis is just not there. Usually this lack of emphasis seems to be due to the instructor or course writer never having been in an IED incident, much less complex ones with lethal secondaries. But for those in the US military, and for first responders in places like Thailand where a modern IED campaign is occurring, the secondary (and tertiary, quaternary, etc) device is the item that will be emphasized the most, as it is usually the one that will kill the first responders, and / or the most people after the initial event has occurred.
Secondary devices are not new. The tactic is almost as old as the IED. The primary device is either placed to go off or be seen and subsequently draw in the first responders, good samaritans, and others in response to it, while the secondary device is positioned to explode when and where the attacker believes that the intended crowd size or composition is present. The first bomb in other words is the “lure” to bring in the true targets.
Commonplace now in Thailand are events that will see three or four such devices placed. The initial effect of the use of secondaries to attack first responders is that it created a delay in their response to the incident. Creating a perception of either incompetence or fear. Perceptions that suited the goals of the bombing groups among the public. Later, the Thais accepted a certain amount of risk in responding in order to not delay response to the public. This initially was accompanied by large casualties, but later, with the units training on SEARCH, the casualties were reduced.
The incident last week in Thailand was not unique in the use of secondary and tertiary devices, but was unique in that all three were Vehicle Borne IEDs (VBIEDs) or car bombs, and appear to have been coordinated with the Lee Garden Hotel VBIED hundreds of miles to the North. On Saturday, the initial car bomb was detonated in a crowded street in the southern city of Yala. Half an hour later, another car bomb was detonated about 100 meters up the road from the first car bomb, right where the crowds had gathered to observe, and many of the first responders were staging to put out the fires created by the first bomb, and begin the investigation and recovery. About 15 minutes after the second bomb went off, another bomb exploded nearby, killing and injuring even more people. The first responders now had three incidents to deal with. On a regional/national level. One hour after these three IEDs went off in Yala, a VBIED was initiated in the basement of the Lee Garden Hotel in Songkhla city to the north. This attack was especially onerous as Songkhla was not as heavily hit by IEDs as Yala, and is viewed as relatively peaceful when compared to the three southern provinces which are the center of the Thailand IED campaign. Now there were four IED incidents, the three in Yala created a mass casualty incident, and the one in Songkhla was very visible and created a media impact Thailand and the region, even though it did not generate many casualties. All of this occurred in less than two hours.
Most of the deaths due to IEDs in Iraq were against Iraqi first responders. While the US tended to focus naturally upon attacks against the US forces, the insurgency targeted police, ambulance services, firemen, etc in many areas. The ability to separate the people from those the government and society place to protect them is a powerful tool in the hands of the insurgent and terrorist, and one that causes the most fear. If the first responders are afraid and paralyzed by an attack, the impact is tenfold upon the peoples consciousness who rely upon them for safety.
Another very successful attack by secondaries in Thailand was the use of a combination of timer, and victim operated devices that targeted the forensics teams that were set in. The secondary devices were timed to hit about an hour after the initial event when the forensic teams entered and began to search the area. Another variation to this was the device that was placed “off the beaten path” from the initial post blast area, that medical and police would not usually enter, but forensic investigators would in their search for pieces of forensic evidence that was blown about from the initial bomb. This was an intentional target, as forensic investigators are a “high value” target that are difficult to replace in many jurisdictions. The amount of training required and time to build up experience in post blast investigations made loosing one in a region very damaging to the overall effort to locate the bombers and bring them to justice.
Thailand also has some of the most effective IEDs for attacking the EOD techs as well. Devices created specifically to kill the EOD technician. When the Thais began using robotic means to render safe the IEDs (when the budget allowed a team to obtain a robot, which is very rare), secondary devices were used to attack the robots on approach, and tertiary devices to kill the EOD technician on approach afterward were then developed.
But we don’t have to look abroad for lethal uses of secondary devices. The incident a few years ago near Portland Oregon had a primary hoax device, and a secondary live device that sadly killed a police EOD technician. The use of a primary hoax device also serves occasionally to lull the responders into a false perception that the entire incident is a hoax. Many times the initial device that is placed to be a “lure” is a hoax device.
The only effective measure to protect against secondary devices is a training system that can accurately convey how these devices are being used worldwide, as well as the myriad ways that they are used to “lure” first responders into the secondary IED trap. SEARCH training, is the second part to this, which trains first responders in a realistic way what to look for and what to do when you find it. It is especially important to react in a way that helps keep you out of danger once the first device is found, or initiates.
And always remember that if there is an IED found or detonated, the incident is not over or contained to that area. With IEDs:
The one you see won’t hurt you.