Today, Exercise European Guardian gets underway in Austria. One element of the European Defence Agency's highly successful counter-IED workstrand, the exercise will provide European IED disposal operatives with training in the toughest disciplines of countering IEDs. We spoke to George*, who is an instructor at the Austrian Armed Forces EOD Training Center, and who has worked in this field since 1998.
Why is countering IEDs so important?
The IED is the weapon of choice of insurgents - on missions abroad and the homeland. Therefore, a high probability exists that Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) will pose an increasing threat to EU Member State’s military forces on operations, civilian personnel on missions, and indigenous civilian populations. The proliferation of IEDs presents a significant threat to the EU member states’ and CSDP missions and operations. Their increased use in conflicts across the world is already significantly impacting on the number of casualties in recent conflicts; e.g. in Afghanistan more ISAF troops are killed by IEDs than by all other means combined. IEDs are also prolific in the homeland with terrorist groups operating across the European Union, and have become an international threat with European citizens being subject to attacks worldwide. The risk of increased sophistication in the construction and employment of IEDs is significant. The Internet provides the insurgent with an excellent method of spreading technical expertise. Pure self-defence is however an insufficient response to this threat, because generally part of the mission will be to prevent an adversary not only from completing his mission, but also from attacking any civilians in the mission area. A Counter-IED capability equips military operations to defeat the threat; a true capability needs to be proactive and adaptive at all levels in order to counter the asymmetry of a difficult to define and manipulative opponent.
Have you had much experience working with other European militaries? How have you found that experience?
Throughout my missions, courses and work in International Working Groups for EDA and NATO I have had extensive opportunities to work with most of the European countries and my impression is that they are very professional in their work and open in sharing information that assists in the fight against IEDs, both at home and abroad.
So there is a training exercise coming up in June named European Guardian. Please tell us a little about this. What do you hope to learn from the upcoming training exercise? What benefits do you think you will gain?
European Guardian is an exercise for a very small group of IEDD operators that are capable of dealing with highly sophisticated terrorist devices, where the use of Remote Controlled Vehicles (RCVs) or energetic weapons are considered inappropriate or impracticable. This includes IEDs posing an immediate and grave danger to life, IEDs on hostages, IEDs containing extremely sensitive explosives and where it has been deemed unacceptable for the IED to function as intended by the perpetrator.
My expectation is to learn that capability in an international environment with professional IEDD operators with the purpose of sharing lifesaving knowledge, skills, and experiences. This will also include sharing experiences of equipment, techniques and procedures with other operators, so that we can all be best prepared during circumstances where this capability is needed. It is also hoped that this exercise initiates a conduit to collaborate on joint research or equipment development projects between member states to make the most of available funding in the current economic climate.
European Guardian seems to be a great example of European defence cooperation. Do you agree?
Yes, in a time when most Armed Forces are facing budget reductions, the opportunity to share costs is vital when keeping the professionalism of soldiers at the needed level. The EDA is the perfect body to gain this goal inside the European nations.
European Guardian shows that two countries, Luxembourg and Austria, together with the EDA can organize a highly professional opportunity for European operators to train in an realistic environment.
*Full name withheld for security reasons.
Read more about Exercise European Guardian’s innovative funding structure here.