A harvest of intelligence
Lt. Eric Bouysson
First published in
SFOR Informer#135, March 28, 2002
In the area of Prijedor, during the first two weeks of
March, the United Kingdom Battle Group (UKBG) conducted a
large harvest operation, which delivered outstanding results.
Twelve ready to use 81-mm mortars had been found in an unoccupied
building. Success is rarely a matter of luck, but rather a
combination of planning, intelligence and execution.
Omarska - It is part of the mandate of SFOR to conduct HARVEST
operations. Depending on the places, results are uneven and
there is a lot of rivalry between the troops. The UKBG has
just distinguished itself with outstanding results, which
had little to do with luck. Their approach is indeed full
of intelligence - not just information gathering, but also
a very soft, step-by-step, low-force approach to convince
the local people of the benefits of a successful harvest.
Since there is no current mandate to search the buildings
of reluctant people, the key to success is indeed information
- the pieces of information you give and those you receive.
An outstanding result
Most HARVEST operations bring a significant number of small
calibre weapons and ammunition. Support weapons are very rarely
seized: their storage requires a lot of room. Most of them
are now believed to be in weapon storage sites, monitored
by SFOR. An exception is an anti-aircraft gun handed over
by a farmer. It had been stored in a barn since the Peace
Agreement was signed. But the twelve 81-mm mortars that have
recently been discovered were partly concealed in an unoccupied
building. It had not been searched purely by chance. "I
was not surprised to find something of that kind" explains
Lt. Col. Ian Thomas, commanding officer of the UKBG.
Preparation of the environment
It is a long time before such a success can be obtained. The
BG has now been patrolling its area of responsibility for
months. The regular patrols of the Royal Gurka Rifles have
become familiar to the people; mutual, respectful and confident
relationships have been established. When visiting the people,
every team has an interpreter and the team leader can address
the people in the local language. Dogs trained to detect explosives
or weapons are used to search a house only with the owner's
consent, and, as a reward, the visiting team is smaller and
the visit shorter. "In the HARVEST framework, it is a
matter of persuasion. People have to volunteer the information,"
says Maj. James Robinson, C-Coy commander.
The UK troops were already in this area with UNPROFOR (United
Nations Protection Force) and have a thorough knowledge of
the former confrontation lines and escape routes. "We
know the most productive areas," said Thomas. Careful
observations by patrols add to the intelligence. The presence
of SFOR has created a feeling of confidence within the local
As the door-to-door harvest was going on, a small team sneaked
into an unoccupied agricultural building. There was a risk
that the building was mined or booby-trapped. The Explosive
Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team cleared the way up to the storage
point in less than thirty minutes. But as the Gurka Company
Sergeant Major, Dhanbahadur Limbu, points out, "We had
confidence in the trust and respect we had earned from the
population and which paved the way to this very good result."
Months of effort have indeed had a huge reward when the ready-to-use
mortars were found. The UKBG way of dealing with that issue
is excellent, but maybe not easily reproduced, "as it
is part of a know-how patiently developed over the years,"
concludes the commanding officer.
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