UK Combat Support Engineer Squadron at Your Service!

Lt Hollie Ryan (CA)
First published in
SFOR Informer#169, February, 2004

Having served in Iraq from March until May 2003 in Warfighting Operations on Operation TELIC, the UK Combat Support Engineer Squadron deployed in October the same year to find themselves in a totally different scenario - peacekeeping in Bosnia. The Squadron is currently filled by members of 31 Armoured Engineer Squadron of the 7th Armoured Brigade. It carries out a variety of support tasks, including providing a construction capability to the UK National Support Centre J4 Infra, and an Advanced Search capability and Combat Engineer capability to the UK Battle Group (1 Royal Gurkha Rifles).
On Saturday, 13 December, the Squadron conducted a demonstration day for its incoming Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Rich Semple. While several presentations took place that day, including construction and snow and ice removal, current tasks vary in both their nature and location. "One of these was providing support to the USBG, based at Multinational Brigade North in Tuzla, on Op ARMADILLO," said Capt Rich Williams, the Squadron's second-in-command of Operations. "This is an ongoing endeavour to assist the Armed Forces of Republika Srpska in destroying unsafe and surplus ammunition." They also provided support to the UK Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team at Manjaca Range in MNB North West.
The Squadron has EOD Teams, with or without EDD (Explosive Detection Dogs), ready to support various sections with EOD and Improvised Explosive Devise Demolition (IEDD) tasks throughout MNB (NW). This includes the Brigade Incident Response Team (IRT) at Sipovo, the HQ and other Brigade elements in Banja Luka. EOD tasks generally include such things as the Proving of Routes, Areas & Locations, Clearance of Buildings, Unexploded Ordinance (UXO)/Mine detection, Technical Intelligence, Chemical/Biological EOD, IEDD and Munition/UXO Disposal. Thus far, the UK CS Engr Sqn has provided the EOD Detachment with logistics and medical support through the echelon elements based mainly at Sipovo.
Most EOD work in Bosnia is of the "PUCA" (pick up carry away) type, mainly in support of UKBG HARVEST operations, SFOR's effort to withdraw illegal weapons from general circulation and to permanently decommission arms and associated ordinance through destruction by SFOR personnel. This is a task that is slowly being taken over by the Civil Protection Agency, or CPA, as well as the Armed Forces of BiH. In the near future, the EOD Det will become a sub-unit of the Banja Luka Support Squadron in Banja Luka.
There often seems to be a blurred line between EOD and search. The search capability within the Squadron covers two categories: defensive and offensive. The purpose of defensive searches is to protect potential targets, while offensive searches are to deprive belligerents of their resources, and to gain intelligence. There are also basic, intermediate, and advanced levels of search.
The Squadron provided advanced search support to the UKBG during their joint HARVEST operation in the Gradiška area during late autumn, and provided patrol search training to the Canadian, US and Dutch BGs over a period of 4 weeks. Cpl Andrew Bishop, who conducted the Mine Awareness Training demonstration, just came from Iraq. "This is my fourth time being here, so I've seen a change - a hell of a lot." With regard to the tasks he has now, he says, "Yeah, they've changed dramatically. Obviously the first…was escorting UN aid convoys, now we're doing infrastructure and search."
As well as performing a variety of other support tasks, the Construction Troop deployed to Kosovo last autumn for one month to de-construct the buildings in Camp Tor Hov in Priština. Cpl Bishop mentioned a daring challenge undertaken while down there. Apparently, the Squadron raised €200 when one member drank a bottle of Tabasco sauce so that in-house medical equipment for local children could be purchased. Wonder if that wins him a medal for bravery…
The Squadron re-deploys at the end of February 2004.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: UK

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Photos: Cpl Paddy Hill (RAF)

Sapper undergoing mine training.

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Snow chains are essential in Bosnia.

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Endoscopic equipment inspected.