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U.S. Troops in Bosnia Get Nonlethal Weapons

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 1997 – Some U.S. troops in Bosnia now carry sponge grenades and dye-marking kits -- nonlethal weapons designed to control crowds.

"I want to be very clear ... these weapons are to supplement their normal lethal weapons that they would carry -- M-16s and other weapons," Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said Sept. 2. "They are not in place of those weapons."

The decision to issue nonlethal weapons to U.S. forces followed an incident in Brcko, where Bosnian civilians attacked American soldiers with rocks and two-by-fours. Military officials are also preparing to provide security during municipal elections slated Sept. 13 and 14.

During the elections, the NATO Stabilization Force will help international officials ensure freedom of movement, move ballot boxes and other election materials and deliver voting equipment to polling places, Bacon said. Once the votes are in, they will also secure storage sites to prevent tampering with election results, he said.

The U.S. force is beefing up for this role. About 1,500 U.S. troops have joined the 8,000 already there; the total will grow to about 11,000 before the elections are over, Bacon said.

Military units received 40mm sponge grenades designed to knock down a person hit in the chest or abdomen up to 30 meters away, Bacon said. Soldiers load and fire the grenades from M-203 grenade launchers.

U.S. troops also got dye-marking kits, which look like water balloons, that can be thrown at crowd leaders and agitators so they can be later identified by law enforcement authorities, he said.

These items "expand the range of options available to any commander on the scene to allow him to call for the use of nonlethal weapons, if necessary, just as the commander recently used tear gas at Udrigovo," Bacon said.

American troops participating in NATO's Stabilization Force mission in Bosnia are trained in riot control procedures, Bacon noted. That training was recently called into play.

About 1,000 Bosnian Serbs attacked about 350 U.S. troops with rocks, Molotov cocktails and two-by-fours Aug. 28 in Brcko. At the time, the Stabilization Force troops were supporting the U.N. International Police Task Force attempt to examine a local police station. U.S. troops fired several warning shots and used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Two American sergeants were injured during the civil unrest.

Another incident occurred Sept. 2 when U.S. troops, on NATO orders, seized a television broadcast tower at Udrigovo. Bosnian Serbs protested, and again, U.S. troops used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

"It's clear that the mob that appeared at Udrigovo was not a spontaneous group of people who just happened to be walking by and gathered around the broadcast tower," Bacon said. "They came in buses. Their leaders were carrying hand-held radios and communicating with each other. So this seemed to be organized opposition to what SFOR is trying to do over there."

Bacon discounted a news account which said U.S. troops used hand-made clubs to fend off civilians during the incident. Reporters probably saw troops digging in on the hill and assumed the Americans were using the tools as weapons, Bacon said. "They were not armed with clubs. These were just the tools they were issued."

U.S. forces returned the tower to Bosnian Serb control after Serb radio and television agreed to refrain from inflammatory reporting against the Stabilization Force and international organizations supporting the Dayton peace agreement.

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