SFOR rids Bosanski Brod of dangerous bombs

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Maj. Jarrod Krull
First published in
SFOR Informer#166, October, 2003

Unexploded ordnance is a terribly legacy of war that poses an unpredictable hazard to human life. This past Sunday, the threat posed by two Second World War 500-pound bombs that lay slightly submerged beneath the Sava River running through Bosanski Brod was eliminated due to the efforts of local citizens and authorities, the soldiers of the Multinational Battle Group (MNBG) from SFOR's Multinational Brigade-North and a French Underwater Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team's combined efforts.

Bosanski Brod - Local citizens initially discovered one of the bombs located about 200 metres west of the bridge (and only about 10 metres from the river bank) that connects Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina about a month ago. Once notified, the local authorities contacted the government's demining team who in turn, sought the expertise of SFOR EOD teams to develop a solution that would eliminate the hazardous ordnance it was believed to be a result of bombing that was intended for the bridge more than a decade ago.
Two 500 pound bombs
Upon investigation by all involved, it was determined that special equipment and expertise in underwater demolition would be required to safely neutralize the bombs. Later, another bomb was identified approximately 50 meters away by another group of children who reported it to an SFOR patrol. As a precaution, the Polish EOD from the MNBG marked the location of the bomb with stakes and mine warning tape until a specialized unit could be called upon for assistance.
Portuguese Army Lt. Col. Jose Fernandes, operations and training officer for the MNBG, was initially tasked with finding the necessary expertise to solve this difficult problem. "Our EOD teams told us that it would be extremely dangerous to destroy the bombs on site as they were located close together and close to a populated area," said Fernandes. He added that, "While all the demolition teams possessed the expertise to destroy the bombs in place, they determined that because of their size and the expected blast, it would be unsafe to destroy them where they were located."
With the support of Chief of Operations, Colonel Reinhard Wolfski, it was discovered that a French Navy EOD team was scheduled to take part in a training exercise in Slovenia this week. The MNBG staff contacted the team and coordination was made to move them and their necessary equipment to Bosanski Brod from their ship located in port at Split, Croatia.
While the French demolition divers awaited the arrival of their raft and specialized ordnance removal equipment, they investigated the bombs to determine what precautions were necessary to safely handle them and move them to a demolition site some five kilometres down river - where the river's depth was greater and further away from the local population.
"The bombs were located in a very difficult place - making this the toughest mission I have had to accomplish, " said Master Chief Robin Gregory, a six-year demolition team veteran.
Gregory explained that while the bombs were located underwater, the fact that they were in a shallow depth with limited visibility due to the silt carried by the current made his work extremely difficult. The shallow water limited the buoyancy needed to move the bombs safely without obstruction and the limited visibility made it difficult to determine the condition of each bomb and the status of the fusing used to arm them - but which had not caused detonation upon impact.
Once the team's inflatable boat and specialized removal equipment arrived by helicopter, operations began to move the bombs to their designated destruction site.
At the same time, the coordinated security efforts of local police and Portuguese soldiers ensured that the bridge and surrounding roads were closed to traffic as an added safety precaution.
100 metre high geyser
During the daylong process, each bomb was carefully lifted and wrapped in an inflatable lift bag that was secured and filled with air - causing the bomb to rise to the surface. Once complete, the bomb was towed down river, submerged, and then fixed with demolition explosives by the divers. After the area was cleared, the bombs were blown up, sending a geyser of water nearly 100 metres into the air.
After operations were complete, Lt. Col. Fernandes praised those involved. "This operation is an example of what can be done through the combined efforts of local citizens and SFOR troops- the destruction of these bombs will definitely make Bosanski Brod a safer and more stable community. This is a true success. Two weeks ago it was believed that we would not be able to do this until next year. Instead, the entire operation took little more than 12 hours."

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: France

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Photos: Courtesy of MNB-N Public Affairs Office

French Navy Underwater Demolition team members load their scuba diving equipment into a Polish Battalion Explosive Ordnance Disposal truck.


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Master Chief Gregory removes the tape and steel posts from one of the bombsites before clearing the sand and muck away.


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The blast created a picturesque view as the water began to fall back into the river.


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Photo: Capt.Besnik Cukali

A geyser of water is sent sky high as a French EOD team destroy two bombs in the Sava river.