Battlefield forensics helps counter IEDs
In a quiet corner of a lab, a graduate of the Canadian Police College’s forensic identification services course painstakingly processes material collected from a crime scene. The technician finally recovers a critical piece of information, successfully attributing it to a known bomb maker. Elsewhere, an explosives technician x-rays IED components to determine how the device functioned.
These technicians are not police officers but, rather, members of the CF who perform these activities daily in the Forces’ level-2 exploitation lab in Afghanistan. The military facility permits rapid technical examination of any new, modified or unexpected item identified within the area of operations to determine if it represents an advantage for the enemy or presents a technical surprise for friendly forces. In either case, the information or item is further analyzed until a countermeasure is developed and the technological advantage is neutralized.
The CF has developed many new capabilities over nearly a decade of rotations in Afghanistan. One of the most significant capabilities is battlefield forensics, which permits CF personnel to link insurgents to specific events and remove them from the battlefield. Moreover, the information gleaned enhances their ability to protect coalition allies, the Afghan population and themselves.
In late 2006, the CF began employing small field exploitation teams to examine the tactical situation of an event and collect evidence for examination by level-1 exploitation teams in US labs. These teams are trained to collect evidence logically, given the time available, and determine the tactical situation, such as why the enemy selected the location to initiate an attack.
The CF established the multi-disciplinary exploitation capability (MDEC) at Kandahar in April 2009 to resolve the lengthy delays caused by sending material submitted for exploitation to the US or UK. This temporary level-2 facility enables rapid non-destructive, forensic technical exploitation that remains relevant to the tactical commander. These exploitation efforts often result in the material being replicated to determine the potential impact on CF equipment or personnel, or it may be reverse engineered to determine the source of the components.
Information gained from the exploitation process is shared, as much as possible, with the CF, coalition partners and the government of Afghanistan. It is also returned to Canada to train personnel and help government partners such as the RCMP, Public Safety Canada and Natural Resources Canada. This cross-agency sharing is essential to prepare both field teams and lab personnel.
CF personnel now employ police-standard forensic practices that were completely unknown to them four years ago. The MDEC was established as a temporary facility but will soon be replaced by a containerized Deployable Technical Analysis Laboratory; the federal government acknowledges the IED threat will be with us for at least the next 20 years.
It is only through continued co-operation with partners such as the RCMP, the Canadian Explosive Technicians Association and others that the CF will be able to maintain the highest standards in readiness for future operations abroad.
Read the full version of this article in Vol. 73, No.1, of RCMP Gazette at www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/gazette.