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.
Intelligence gathering
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 population.
Careful execution
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.

Related links: SFOR at Work
Nations of SFOR: UK

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Photo: Lt. Phillipe Mouret

Twelve 81mm mortars, ready to use, have been found.


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Photo: Mcpl Sylvain Bourget

In the building, dozens of shell boxes complement the mortars.


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Photo: Lt. Philippe Mouret

An impressive number of rifles have been harvested.


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Photo: Mcpl Sylvain Bourget

The popular automatic rifles handed over, are in a very good state.