By Mohamed Saho
The Bison Counter 23 International Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IED) exercise ended on Friday, November 24. Having been conducted in the Spanish cities of Zaragoza and Cartagena since November 8 under the supervision of the European Defence Agency (EDA), Bison Counter 23 is the most significant and largest exercise taken by the European Union and among Western allies in the field of C-IED.
Previously occuring in The Netherlands in 2013, Sweden in 2016, and Italy in 2021, Bison Counter are live exercises on gathering C-IED teams and capabilities from different European states and the USA, uniting broad knowledge and different techniques under EDA supervision to build capacity of security forces’ reaction to IED events.
The priority of this year’s edition was to “Develop C-IED and CBRNe Capabilities Based on Newly Available Technology and Training”. Both conventional and irregular threat scenarios were simulated, encouraging teams to share information to resolve the crisis scenarios.
Coherence, Interoperability, Resilience
As stated on the EDA website, “the ultimate objective [of Bison Counter] is to enable individual EU Member States, and with them the whole of the EU, to act in a more coherent, interoperable and resilient way against the ever-evolving IED threat, both on expeditionary military operations and in the context of countering terrorism within its borders”.
The capabilities necessary in C-IED are: planning and prioritization, search, detection, disposal, collection of exploitable materials and laboratorial technical exploitation.
Hosted by the Spanish Armed Forces, Bison Counter 23 has by far been the largest Bison Counter exercise, gathering more than a thousand participants from 16 different countries, including NATO units and the EU. In addition to that, 28 K-9 dogs, 300 vehicles and five speedboats were also deployed.
Teams specialized in the following fields participated in Bison Counter 23:
- Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)
- Improvised Explosive Device (IED)
- K-9 Dogs Units Training
- Underwater works
- Weapons Intelligence Team (WIT)
- Route Clearance (RCP)
- Combined Joint Task Force HQ
- BC23 built upon projects and previous editions
Increased EU Focus on Defense and Security
In recent years the EU has increased its efforts in developing programs and training to endow security forces and other relevant actors from Member States with the right tools and knowledge to deal with any threat that might derive from the use of improvised explosive devices (IED).
IEDs – basically homemade bombs that have been created in an unconventional manner –circumventing all quality and legal protocols, and often used outside the traditional military combat arena – are becoming of increasing concern due to their preference among terrorists and other non-state actors whose sole goal is destabilization and creating chaos. The IED threat is always evolving and growing in complexity due to technological progress, and the actors involved and their alliances.
Pedro Bastom, Project Officer of C-IED at the European Defence Agency, said that C-IED “is a systematic approach supporting planning and conduct of military operations in any threat environment where explosive hazards and improvised threats challenge the freedom of manoeuvre. This is particularly relevant in current hybrid conflicts”.
All this highlights the commitment of the EDA and the wider EU to safeguard the safety of its citizens through strengthening its counter-terrorist capacities. This objective has gained momentum since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which upended European security and has compelled many EU Member States and the EU itself to increasingly prioritize defense.
France, for example, will see its defense spending between 2024 and 2030 increase by a third compared to spending since 2019, from €295bn to €413bn. It remains to be seen whether this shift will be a momentary response to contemporary security challenges, or if we are indeed witnessing a consolidation of this paradigm shift in which exercises like Bison Counter become more common and widespread.
On March 21, 2022, EU leaders adopted the Strategic Compass, a plan of action that looks to strengthen the EU’s security and defense policy by 2030 as a response to the ‘major geopolitical shift’ that the Russian aggression against Ukraine has caused and challenged EU interests.
Mohamed Saho is a Security and Defense Analyst at NCT Consultants.