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The vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) is an extremely common weapon in modern warfare (especially asymmetric warfare), and one that has deep historical roots.  While those roots extend all the way back to 1920, when a "wagon bomb" was detonated on Wall Street, New York City,  the use of VBIEDs experienced a significant upswing in the 1970s, when they began to see wide use as a tool of assassination. During the conflict in Lebanon during the 1980s, the VBIED first saw widespread use in attacks intended to create greater destruction and mass casualties.  Targets included the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, both of which were destroyed by truck bombs in 1983.

Since then, VBIEDs have been used by terrorist, insurgent, and anti-government groups the world over, from Colombia, to Indonesia, to Kenya, to Spain, the UK, and beyond. There are a number of reasons for the VBIEDs popularity.  It allows the bomb to be assembled at a safe location, for example, and then driven to the target area, as opposed to "roadside bombs" that have to be placed on routes routinely traveled by enemy personnel.  The mobility of VBIEDs also affords a certain flexibility to groups that employ them; if the location or circumstances of the target change prior to the execution of the operation, VBIEDs grant their user an ability to adjust and develop alternate plans in a way that stationary IEDs do not.  VBIEDs also benefit from one of the most sophisticated guidance systems available: human beings.  This allows for last-minute changes to the location and detonation of the explosive as conditions dictate.  In an urban environment, furthermore, the ubiquity of automobiles makes the detection of VBIEDs extremely difficult without serious disruption to the business and travel of the local populace.

The surest defense against VBIEDs is keeping them at a safe distance from likely targets.  This is much easier said than done.  In some cases, such as that of the White House in Washington DC, it is possible to permanently block streets to automotive traffic, thus preventing the approach of VBIEDs.  In urban environments such as Baghdad, however, the long-term closure of streets and thoroughfares around the many vulnerable targets is simply not an option.  As a result, detection of VBIEDs often relies on the vigilance of troops on the ground. In high-traffic environments, every vehicle is a potential VBIED, and tensions soar when vehicles fail to stop at checkpoints or approach troop positions at high rates of speed.  This uncertainty, and the severe consequences of failing to stop an approaching VBIED have been responsible for a number of tragic accidental deaths in Iraq, including that of an Italian intelligence official who was shot as his vehicle approached a checkpoint. The concern over VBIEDs is also highlighted in the shooting of the bus in CFR-TV episode 3.