Beware! Mines!

1st Lt. Philippe Mouret
First published in
SFOR Informer#130, January 17, 2002

Every fortnight, in Butmir camp the SFOR Mine Information Co-ordination Cell (MICC) gives two mine awareness training courses. It is a mandatory brief for all personnel arriving in theatre due to the very real danger mines present in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

Sarajevo - The two main dangers you may encounter here are the road traffic accidents and the mines. In both cases, prevention is of utmost importance. Preventative training, in the latter case, is the mission of the MICC. Every fortnight, American Staff Sgt. Scott Ion, technical adviser for de-mining matters, gives a briefing in English on the dangers of the mines. So does French Staff Sgt. Bernard Joly, but in his own native language.
Mines are everywhere
"Excess of confidence kills." With this statement the training course begins. Ion insists: "It's my third tour in the Balkan Theatre, and each time when returning, I hear about new accidents due to the mines." He goes on to explain some definitions and reminders, then quotes some figures which speak for themselves: as of today, 307,509 mines have been inventoried in BiH, 250,501 antipersonnel mines (APM) and 50,008 antitank mines (ATM) spread across 18,232 mined areas. According to the assessment of the Mine Action Centre (MAC), today run by BiH authorities, those figures probably represent less than half of the total amount of the mines laid in the country during the war.
Mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) can be found everywhere: the Former Confrontation Line (FCL), similar to the Inter Entity Boundary Line (IEBL); military or strategic areas as well as barracks, airports, former check points, empty buildings, woods, agricultural fields and privately owned houses or properties - sometimes booby-trapped by their inhabitants prior to their departure.
Maps reveal the danger. There are still mined areas within Sarajevo town and all around its airport. All of those, who feel comfortable inside Butmir Camp must remember that, last October, an unexploded rifle grenade was discovered there on a building site.
Even regularly followed tracks may present some danger. After heavy rains, floods, or when the snow thaws, landslides are frequent, bringing back to the surface, or on the verges of the path, forgotten mines. Several SFOR vehicles tragically experienced this situation, even though they were on approved and so-called safe routes.
In order to illustrate how difficult it can be to locate a mine, Ion shows two pictures of places where a mine is hidden. It is a rare occurrence when one member of the audience, even though all are soldiers, finds it at first glance. Try the test yourself.
The ingenuity demonstrated in manufacturing mines in BiH has been amazing. The inventory is unfortunately quite long: antipersonnel mines can utilise a blast effect, a fragmenting effect, a bounding effect and a directed effect. They may be buried, laid on the soil, put on a wooden stake or a metal tripod. Antitank mines utilise a blast or a penetration effect.
Thanks to some forewarnings, it is sometimes possible to detect the possible presence of mines: conventional markings (mostly red triangle and or yellow ribbon) or an improvised one, as piled up stones, wooden sticks put on the earth in the form of a cross, tins on the top of a post, gashed trees, jerrycans, bound high grass, carcasses or skeletons of animals.
Unexploded Ordnance and Booby-traps
UXO also represents a potential danger. It can consist of shells, rockets, missiles or grenades, which didn't function properly or they may have a delay/anti-disturbance feature.
Booby traps (improvised devices) may be equipped with or without explosives. They look like harmless items and are placed in many places with the aim of causing wounds, sometimes deadly. They may have many aspects and shapes: ammunition magazines, helmets, civilian or military equipment, abandoned jerrycans, drawers, doors or floors of trapped buildings. They may be indicated by the presence of tools, screws or pieces of string.
Damages
The existence of these deadly devices in BiH has horrible consequences. By April 2001, mines and UXO have caused the deaths of 39 children and 117 have been injured. As far as it concerns adults, 285 have been killed and 854 injured, sometimes very seriously. As from the end of 1995, the combined toll for the Implementation Force (IFOR) and for the Stabilisation Force (SFOR) is 14 killed and 133 injured.
Ion backs up those figures with some pictures of the victims, and the blood of the audience freezes. Words cannot adequately depict the condition of those people, dead or badly disabled for the rest of their lives. All those present are soldiers, but even the sappers see such terrifying pictures for the first time in their lives. In some countries, the policy is not to show deeply shocking pictures; nevertheless, they are the best ones able to highlight the danger.
"Don't yield to temptation"
Whatever the device you find: mine, UXO or booby-trap, you must not touch it. Move away from it, protect yourself, prohibit access to the area and notify the appropriate departments (see box).
Ion hammers out his recommendations: "Stay on approved and safe routes. Don't tread off the roads or enter abandoned buildings. Don't collect any souvenirs in the wild, don't pick up something on the ground if you didn't drop it yourself."
British Maj. Simon Wood, chief of mines intelligence, explains that the mine awareness courses are aimed at preventing accidents and to teach correct behaviour. "Many soldiers attend only because it is mandatory. They think they know it all because some of them were previously assigned to the theatre. But at the end, when they raise questions, you understand they have learned a lot again. Habit is the worst and the most dangerous enemy," he said.
The end of the mine awareness course gives a good illustration. Whereas a notice forbids you to touch the fake displayed mines, some of the students have not learned the lesson and don't hesitate to manipulate them.
"Always be aware of the danger, it is vital!"

Related links: Engineering - Mines and De-mining
SFOR at Work

Training and Exercises

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Here is pastoral and innocent view. Would you be able to find the hidden mine in it?


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Photo: Courtesy of MICC

If you see such yellow ribbons along your route, go away.


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Photo: PO Andy Gedge

American Staff Sgt. Scott Ion explains the functioning of a mine.


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Photo: PO Andy Gedge

British Maj. Simon Wood, chief MICC Intelligence (left), and American Staff Sgt. Scott Ion. Between them, a symbol you must perfectly recognise.


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Photos: Courtesy of MICC

Example of antipersonnel mines.


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Photos: Courtesy of MICC

Example of antitank mines.