Symbolic Destruction of MANPADS Stockpile

By Capt. Besnik Cukali
First published December 8, 2003

On November 10, 2003 at Lapov Dol Range near Tarcin, about an hours drive from Sarajevo, MAN-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS) from both the Federation and Republika Srpska were destroyed by a team from the 666th EOD (US) Company. The US Defence Attaché, in close co-ordination with VF and VRS Ministers of Defence, organised the event with the support of SFOR. The event was particularly meaningful and symbolic of the co-operative effort between the US State Department and both Entities to reduce the stockpile of dangerous weapons that pose a threat to civilian and military aircraft the world over.

Sarajevo - US Assistant Secretary of State for Political/Military Affairs, Lincoln Bloomfield, Jr. and US Charge d'Affairs, Tina Kaidanow, visited BiH November 9-10, 2003. During their visit they attended a ceremony of destruction of VF and VRS MANPADS. Members of the US Embassy, VF Ministry of Defence, VRS Ministry of Defence, and SFOR were also in attendance. This ceremony demonstrated the co-operative effort and commitment between the US and BiH to dispose of all MANPADS in BiH.
MANPADS Destruction
MANPADS are MAN-Portable Air Defence Systems, shouldered-fired surface to air weapons. The United States has asked all of its friends to dispose of these weapon systems because of the threat they pose international civil and military aviation when in the wrong hands. In June 2003, a team of experts from the US travelled to BiH to inspect and evaluate the reliability of the BiH stockpile of MANPADS. They determined that all of the MANPADS in BiH were unreliable and obsolete. The US Government received a commitment from both Entity Ministries of Defence (MoD) to destroy the complete inventory of MANPADS. The US Embassy, SFOR, the SCMM, and the Entity Ministries of Defence have prepared a destruction plan for all the remaining MANPADS. The RS has already destroyed 1077 MANPADS with the support of SFOR. The Federation MoD has already given its approval, although final approval of the destruction timetable is required from the RS MoD. On November 10, 2003 a small sample of MANPADS from both Entities was destroyed in a ceremony highlighting the co-operative effort and commitment between the US and BiH to dispose of all MANPADS in BiH.
A Symbolic Demolition
On Bjelasnica Mountain in Tarcin, a team from the 666th EOD (US) Company from MNB (N) destroyed six MAN-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS). Sgt. Donald Welch of the US EOD team said, "We have four MANPADS from the Federation and two from the VRS. Our job here is to destroy them." He further explained how he and his team would use composition C-4 military explosives and a remote demolition-firing device to detonate the explosives. US Assistant Secretary of State for Political/Military Affairs, Lincoln Bloomfield, Jr. said, "A shoulder-fired rocket launcher could shoot down an airliner or a helicopter carrying soldiers. The US will support friends in BiH who courageously make decisions ensuring stable peace and progress." COMSFOR, Major General Virgil Packett, II, attended the ceremony and met with the EOD team after the destruction. He exchanged 'Commander's Coin' metal for the pieces of metal from the destroyed MANPADS saying, "Metal for metal. I want to thank these soldiers for a great job destroying these MANPADS." The US Government has commitments from both Entity Ministries of Defence (MoD) to destroy the complete inventory of MANPADS. Final approval of the destruction timetable is required from the RS MoD; the Federation MoD has already given its approval. Regarding the Federation and RS governments' commitment to the destruction of all remaining MANPADS, MG Packett added, "We are grateful for their help and support."
Operation Armadillo
Both the VF and VRS have too many munitions for the size of their forces, many of the munitions are in poor condition. SFOR is supporting AFBiH by assisting the VF and VRS dispose of unsafe, unserviceable and obsolete ammunition. Unsafe munitions pose a threat to the soldiers guarding them and to the local civilians in the regions where they are currently stored. This month, close to 1000 metric tons of unsafe ammunition must be destroyed as soon as possible. There remains a large quantity of unserviceable and obsolete ammunition to be destroyed. Operation Armadillo began on 11 November 2003, and is the main effort to help alleviate the country of these munitions. The operation will deal with over 5000 MANPADS, 75% of them coming from the VRS and the rest from the Federation. The operation will also contribute to the Ammunition Storage Site reduction program, which is a key element of the Defence Reform Committee's restructuring package. In addition, this destruction program will save the VF and VRS money, as there will be fewer stocks to guard and maintain.
NATO has reinforced SFOR with two Belgian and three US EOD teams from Kosovo for this operation. They are involved in inspecting ammunition, ensuring it is safe to move to demolition sites and in the destruction of the ammunition. Italian experts are on standby in Kosovo to deploy to BiH if necessary. This is another excellent example of the manner in which NATO is ready to support activities in BiH using forces from other theatres and the Reserve Forces.
In the future, SFOR plans to train AFBiH soldiers to dispose of their own ammunition. SFOR is concerned about safety and continued well being of the citizens of BiH. SFOR stands ready to assist the Armed Forces in BiH, the people of BiH, and the soldiers of the Armed Forces in BiH, their families and friends deserve no less.

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Photos: Capt. Besnik Cukali

Sgt. Donald Welch of the 666th EOD (US) Company explains the destruction procedure for MANPADS to Gen Packett and Mr Becirbasic of the SCMM.


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General Packett and Sgt. Donald Welch and Specialist Robert Heeschen of the 666th EOD (US) Company exchange pieces of MANPADS metal for a piece Commander's Coin metal.