When old-time tunnel bomb warfare meets modern day weapons, things can get pretty explosive. For Islamic State militants, digging undetectable tunnels and detonating bombs has become the new strategy to move weapons, avoid detection and blow up targets.
Tunnel bombs began as a medieval siege tactic used to dig deep below enemy ground and collapse the tunnel, bringing down buildings or targets. While this type of warfare is not new in the Middle East, its use has been growing substantially, according to Defense One.
“This below-the-surface attack is particularly destructive to buildings and is appearing increasingly in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria,” said a recent briefing by JIEDDO, a Pentagon group that studies explosive devices.
In war-zone areas, tunnel bombs are extremely dangerous. While short tunnels can be dug in less than 30 days, the longer ones can take months, according to JIEDDO. Some of the tunnels have been nine miles long.
Syrian rebels opened the below-the-ground fighting against Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, and ISIS followed their lead in taking down the Iraqi city of Ramadi, according to Pentagon officials.
JIEDDO said that the tunnel bombs provide a strategic advantage for ISIS at a low risk, which could be attractive to other extremist organizations. ISIS is believed to be using the tunnels to avoid American forces and ally fighter jets and drones.
To detect the bombs ahead of time, JIEDDO is developing aircraft and vehicles that can discover bombs buried in roads. It has also been working with the scientific community, as well as the oil and the gas industries to modify some of the technology, including devices that can detect seismic pressures, for military purposes.
“We’re just trying to figure out what’s the quickest, best technological solution that we can help provide the most complete situational awareness picture of the operating space,” Col. Timothy Frambes, JIEDDO’s director of strategy, plans and policy, said in an interview Monday.
Once the tunnels are detected, they can be destroyed from the surface or with a counter-tunnel.
Before Syrian rebels and ISIS brought tunnel bombs to greater attention, Hamas used them against Israel. However, with the support of Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H), the Pentagon is working to counter these attacks.
“Whether it’s criminals smuggling people and drugs into the U.S. under our southern border, or terrorists sneaking into Israel to conduct attacks, tunnels present a serious security threat to our two countries,” Ayotte said.
Ayotte’s proposal to amend the 2016 defense authorization bill entails a U.S. and Israeli combined effort to solve the tunnel problem.