KFOR's First Priority: Countermine Operations
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 17, 1999 As thousands of U.S., British, French, German and Italian troops and vehicles poured into Kosovo in mid- June, the immediate priority was to ensure their route was free of land mines.
While warring factions in Bosnia are thought to have planted up to 5 million land mines, the number in Kosovo is still a question mark, U.S. military officials said. The allies expect to find heavy concentrations on the borders and many more mines scattered throughout the province. Advancing French troops recently encountered mines on the way to Gnjilane, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said here June 14.
The peace agreement requires Serb forces to provide minefield maps and to help demine, Bacon said, but their compliance has been limited so far. NATO authorities have received some maps and will try to get a better picture in the days ahead of where the mines were sown, he said.
Peacekeeping operations in Bosnia proved U.S. and other NATO forces can work successfully in a high mine-threat environment, U.S. Army Col. David Kingston said. The director of combat developments at the Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Kingston spent eight months conducting countermine operations in Bosnia.
Although not involved in planning for the Kosovo mission, Kingston said countermine operations there would be similar to those in Bosnia. During the June 14 Pentagon press briefing, he highlighted what such operations entail and the equipment used.
"We've now been in Bosnia for over three years and we've only had two incidents involving mines out of all the millions of miles driven and out of all the soldiers in Bosnia in over all that time," Kingston told reporters. He attributed this success to soldier discipline, concentrated mine awareness training and mine action centers.
"We basically got all the minefield data we could get our hands on, sorted it out, packaged it and sent it back out so that all the soldiers had that situational awareness needed to protect themselves," he said. Every soldier received training about the high-threat environment and a handbook depicting the types of mines they might encounter.
Countermine operations involve breaching, clearing, marking and reporting minefields so troops can perform their military mission, Kingston explained. It is not humanitarian "demining," which involves completely clearing areas to make them safe for noncombatants, he stressed. America's armed forces do not demine areas, although they do train people from nongovernment organizations to do the job, he noted.
Countermine equipment, proven effective in Bosnia and available for use in Kosovo, ranges from modified tanks and bulldozers to lightweight, hand-held mine detectors used by soldiers wearing body armor, Kingston said.
The remotely controlled Panther, an M-60 tank chassis fitted with two 5-ton rollers on the front, was a workhorse of daily countermine operations in Bosnia, he said. The mini-flail also was used heavily in Bosnia. The remotely controlled vehicle resembles a riding lawn mower and has a rotating drum with chains that beat the ground and set off mines. "It's very good for clearing footpaths through anti- personnel land mines," Kingston said.
U.S. forces also frequently used bulldozers fitted with extra armor and a front rake to clear mines and unexploded ordnance. Known as "MCAPs," for their Mine Clearing Armor Protection kits, the vehicles can be equipped with a remote control capability.
U.S. forces used the MCAP to build base camps in wooded areas in Bosnia where the Panther and mini-flail could not clear, Kingston said. "The bulldozer has the capability of pushing trees and everything else out of the way while it's doing mine clearing," he said.
Troops deploying into high mine-threat areas also used the M-1114, a modified High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or "Humvee." Similar in appearance to a standard Humvee, the M-1114 has a heavy-duty chassis and extra armor to withstand a mine blast, Kingston said.
Two soldiers riding in one of the armored Humvees survived an otherwise fatal anti-tank mine blast in Bosnia, he said. "The vehicle was destroyed, but the two soldiers received relatively minor injuries," he said. In the second Bosnia mine incident Kingston mentioned, a soldier died early in the operation when a mine he was handling exploded.
Kingston then called on two soldiers from Fort Belvoir, Va., to show individual protective gear to the Pentagon reporters.
Sgt. Michael Nelson, from Utica, N.Y., modeled the new Body Armor Suit Individual Countermine. The helmet, neck guard, shirt and pants contain Kevlar armor. "It has shoes that are far and away better than the foot gear a standard soldier would wear," Kingston said. The suit provides "extra force protection for those soldiers that are performing this dangerous countermine mission," he said.
Cpl. Marcel Weaver, from Washington, D.C., dropped a dime on the briefing room floor to demonstrate the AN/PSS-12 mine detector. The lightweight detector resembles a nylon- string lawn trimmer and emits a tone when it detects metal. "If a mine has any metallic content at all, to include a firing pin, it will pick it up," Kingston said.