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).
- 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
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
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
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.
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
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
SFOR at Work
Training and Exercises