Turkish troops collect and destroy weapons during annual harvest

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Photo: 1Lt. Antonio Ruiz González

Lt. Antonio Ruiz González and Sgt. Kelly Whitteaker
First published in
SFOR Informer#145, August 15, 2002

July 27-29, the Turkish Battalion Task Force (TU Bn TF) carried out a weapons Harvest operation in Zavidovici. The municipality's population of 50,000 people is approximately 80 percent Bosniac. The task was co-ordinated by the Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) team in Zavidovici where the TU Bn TF manages an office.

Zavidovici - The office is a simple room located inside Zavidovici's local authorities building. The facility may be small, but the overall goal is huge. CIMIC teams are involved in several projects such as reconstruction, displaced persons and humanitarian aid. For the Harvest operation the task force kicked things off with an information campaign in co-operation with the local authorities. The purpose of the campaign is to persuade the population to hand over weapons and the importance of doing so.
The mission of Harvest operation, which SFOR began in 1998, is to remove from circulation illegal weapons, ammunitions and explosive ordnance throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Mass media, to include local radio stations, newspapers and information posters, are used for the campaign.

Special training
Soldiers involved with the task receive special training. First Lieutenant Atakan Ak, patrol leader, explains the situation.
"We have to be kind with them (local people), the population is not obliged to hand over the weapons. So, first of all, we use kindness and then to know very well the different circumstances we can face up to," said Ak.
He referred to the fact that troops were able to get ammunition and weapons from the population, but no other devices, such as mines or grenades. The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams will be in charge of collecting those types of devices. Several of the teams are assigned to certain patrols while others will stay at the main collection point.

The collecting point
In the town there is a main collection point, this is where the EOD team leader, CIMIC team leader and coy commander are located.
"Everybody knows why we are here, because CIMIC teams have provided a good information campaign about our job so that people will deliver munitions and weapons personally. Or, they will give information regarding the whereabouts of the weapons to the translators," said second coy commander 1st Lt. Atilla Yücel.
"A medical team is also included at this point as well as an EOD vehicle where we keep the seized equipment," explained Yücel.

Moving door to door
Furthermore, the task force deployed patrols around the local area visiting houses, knocking door to door attempting to get the desired crop of weapons. The method used for the operation included a couple of men and a translator going through the neighbourhood speaking to people in their houses. An EOD team who remained in the background provided additional support. They explained to the local people the danger of keeping the different types of munitions in their homes.

"We observe how they hand over to us some very dangerous artefacts, such as hand grenades, mines and rifle grenades. Those are even more dangerous than the weapons and ammunition themselves," said Capt. Mesut Ekren, EOD team leader.
Though an element of fear is involved for the people turning over arms, the reality is that they should not be afraid to hand over weapons to the Turkish soldiers. The local population is aware that the soldiers will not write their names on any paper or list. On the contrary, every person who contributes to the Harvest operation receives a certificate of appreciation by the task force.
According to 1Lt. Isa Unlu, Public Information Officer, Turkish Army "Our mission is peacekeeping, if people have something to turn in to SFOR, it makes the country safer," he said.

Numbers show success
The harvest proved quiet a success as the number of weapons turned in reflects. In total more than 96 rifles, 11 rocket launchers, 28,028 rounds of ammunition and 707 magazines were brought in as a result of the harvest. Along with the rifles and ammunition there were also 949 hand grenades, 68,700 grams of TNT, 62,550 grams of gunpowder, 192 fuses, as well as mortar and artillery rounds. Ninety-four mines were also turned in, one small step of progress for a country strewn with close to a million mines.

Once the weapons were turned in to the task force they were housed inside a special storage depot located on a Federation Army base. Inside the anonymous looking building the hazards of war were laid out ominously - waiting for their necessary destruction. Soldiers heavily guarded the site, located in Zenica, 24 hours a day until the weapons were officially destroyed.
For the weapons and magazines, destruction came in the form of melting. For items such as mines, these were taken to Moscanica Range and disposal area located in Zenica and detonated under the careful scrutiny of the EOD team.

Destruction of the weapons
When the time arrived for the arsenal to be destroyed, the items were loaded up and taken to the large steel factory in Zenica. Once on site Turkish soldiers from the task force began the arduous task of unloading the numerous boxes of rifles and magazines from military trucks. Inside the factory, the weapons would be melted in a large oven-type metal box until they resembled nothing more than a large pile of harmless white ash.
Destroying illegal weapons requires a lot of hard work. By developing good relations with the local population the task force was able to make a difference by gathering and destroying illegal weapons. Unauthorised weapons in the home can pose a risk to all living there, especially children. For one Turkish troop getting the weapons out of local homes and into the hands of the proper authorities proved to be positive progress.

"It was great," said 1Lt. Kilik, Turkish Navy, EOD, about the harvest, "we protect the people, especially children, against weapons, mines and war. They (children) think that the weapons are toys, they don't know how dangerous they are. If you collect them they cannot play with them."
As members of the task force stood in the factory and watched the weapons burn and crackle in the large oven, a sense of satisfaction regarding a job well done permeated the air.
"These weapons can never kill another living thing again," said Kilik, "I am very happy about this."

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Turkey
SFOR at Work

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Photo: 1Lt. Antonio Ruiz González

A certificate of appreciation is presented to a local family by 1Lt. Hüsejin Özkartal for their contribution to Harvest Operation.


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Photo: 1Lt. Antonio Ruiz González

First Lt. Atakan Ak trains his troops about the different circumstances they will face during Harvest Operation. One troop (wearing the red suit) acts as a local.


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Photo: 1Lt. Antonio Ruiz González

Capt. Bilál Sanli, CIMIC Team Leader for Zavidovici, in a briefing with a local and other members of the team referring to the Harvest campaign.


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Photo: Sgt. Diego Ropero Pastor

Weapons gathered from the Harvest are displayed in a storage facility before being taken to the steel factory where they will be melted and destroyed.


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Photo: Sgt. Diego Ropero Pastor

Empty crates are carried out of the factory once all the magazines and weapons have been melted and destroyed.


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Photo: Sgt. Diego Ropero Pastor

Turkish soldiers remove weapon magazines from a storage box prior to throwing them into the steel factory's oven for melting.


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Photo: Sgt. Diego Ropero Pastor

The oven located inside the steel factory in Zenica where weapons and magazines from Harvest Operation were taken for destruction.


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Photo: 1Lt. Antonio Ruiz González

Senior Chief PO Ibrahim Güngörmez, Turkish Navy, EOD team, secures the safety pin of a hand grenade that was handed over by a local in Zavidovici's neighbourhood.