Before I go any further, let me be clear that this is for a work of fiction.

Doing some research for a story where a military protagonist becomes trapped behind enemy lines, with a plan to have her hold out until rescue against superior forces by adopting asymmetric warfare tactics, including the use of improvised explosive devices. This is an urban environment, but it's a situation where most of the civilians formerly in the area are already gone (either dead, fled, or captured), and she's actively trying to keep the enemy away from a pocket of survivors.

Under standard Western rules of war, is it legal for her to use IEDs in this context? I did a little research already but that article mostly just deals with IEDs being used partially or fully for ideological reasons with no care to collateral damage (and often deliberately targeting civilians).

  • What's an IED? I'm really confused...
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 0:13
  • @Zizouz212: "Improvised Explosive Device", i.e. a homemade bomb. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 0:47
  • Actually I'm confused why the OP thought it necessary to put an "It's for a book" disclaimer in the title? Those are funny when the question is of the "How do I get away with murder?" or "How do I construct an IED out of household supplies?" sort. But am I missing the moral hazard in answering a question like this? Some combatant in some theater of war is considering the legality of using an IED, and the answers provided here will be abused to ... what? Ignore some ROE? Like someone is going to tell a court martial or war crimes tribunal, "But I read on Law.SE it's OK!"
    – feetwet
    Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 13:13
  • @feetwet : I was just trying to be careful I didn't inadvertently offend anyone, TBH. Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 1:21
  • Like the sticky bomb they made in Saving Private Ryan? If Tom Hanks does it, I'm sure it's legit.
    – adam.baker
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 6:14

2 Answers 2


The fact that an explosive device is improvised is irrelevant to any law of war with which I am familiar.

"Legal in war" is more a matter of deciding which treaty, convention, or custom you care to respect.


An IED is simply a land mine that is home made rather than mass produced in a factory. Land mines are illegal under the Ottawa Treaty which currently has 165 parties: if used by or against members of the forces of those countries the user would be liable to prosecution as a war criminal.

  • Anti-personnel mines, specifically.
    – user6726
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 0:36
  • 6
    That treaty appears to only be about anti-personnel automatically triggered mines. IEDs can also be remotely triggered or anti-vehicle.
    – cpast
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 0:39

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