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Initial mine-clearing operations in Bosnia focused on opening roads through the ZOS to allow freedom of movement for civilian traffic and to facilitate TFE in accomplishing its peacekeeping mission. Supervising the factional clearing teams evolved into a combined arms mission involving maneuver forces and engineers. Typically, an M1 fitted with mine rollers, an engineer squad with Armored Combat Earthmover (ACE), M1 tanks or M2 Infantry Fighting Vehicles for security, and a medical team with an evacuation Armored Personnel Carrier were on site.

The initial mine-lifting operations were extremely challenging and dangerous as TFE soldiers assessed the reliability of factional clearing methods. Through continuous mission analysis, a Battle Drill for ZOS Breaching was developed. This combined faction/TFE breaching drill provided a deliberate procedure to ensure efficiency and effectiveness during mine-lifting operations.

  • Team One consisted of a factional engineer squad. Its mission was to locate and destroy mines and other obstacles along the designated route. The factional engineer leader verified with the factional mine record that the correct number of mines in the area had been located and destroyed.

  • Team Two consisted of a factional "proofing" vehicle. Its mission was to travel and proof cleared areas after all mines had been removed or destroyed to ensure routes were safe.

  • Team Three consisted of a TFE proof vehicle, usually an M1 tank with minerollers attached. Its mission, in accordance with TFE SOP, was to make four passes over a cleared area as an extra check to ensure the area had been cleared of mines. If there was no TFE proof vehicle available, the mission ceased until one was available.

  • Team Four consisted of a TFE Engineer squad. Its mission was to provide command and control and overwatch of the operation. This element only became involved in the clearing operation to stop or resolve a serious safety violation.

  • Team Five consisted of an armored ground MEDEVAC vehicle, usually an M113. Its mission was to provide MEDEVAC capability, if required. The vehicle needed communications equipment and the crew had to be well rehearsed on the ground MEDEVAC route.

  • Team Six consisted of an M1 or an M2 Bradley team. It provided security.

Battle and Breaching Drill Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

Several TTPs were incorporated into the TFE Battle Drill for the ZOS Breaching Drill with the factions:

  • Factional units had varying degrees of expertise and equipment to accomplish clearing operations. In a supervisory role, careful mission analysis and risk assessment had to be done to ensure the step-by-step drill was in place for mission success and the safety of U.S. and factional soldiers and equipment. The drill had to be translated for the factions, then rehearsed and enforced.

  • Before arriving on site, a checklist of tasks was used to ensure proper coordination with the factions. It had to be refined continually as additional experience was gained during clearing operations. The checklist had to include:

    • Procedures for gaining and maintaining control of all factional and U.S. soldiers and equipment.

    • Pre-combat Inspections (PCIs) of all equipment.

    • Review of breach drill and procedures.

    • Safety briefing.

    • MEDEVAC procedures.

  • Mine-clearing operations were conducted only if factional mine records were available. Clearing operations without factional mine records were not worth the danger involved. One-hundred percent accuracy on the mine records could not be assumed; however, they did provide some assurance of the number, type and location of the mines.

  • It was important to ensure factions fully cleared their designated areas and roads through the ZOS. The dividing line in the ZOS was the Inter Entity Boundary Line (IEBL). Factions often stopped short of the IEBL, arguing that they had cleared up to the point where the IEBL was on their map. This caused portions of the routes to remain uncleared.

In February 1996, Muslim clearing teams, followed by U.S. clearing teams, cleared a route from the Muslim side of the ZOS to the IEBL. Serb clearing teams cleared from its side to the IEBL. Both faction teams departed after clearing to their perceived boundaries, leaving a 100-meter gap uncleared. An M1 with mine roller moved on the route from the Muslim to the Serb side, then backed through its own tracks.
A CEV then traveled the route using the exact tracks made by the M1 and detonated an AT mine. Although there were no personnel injuries, the CEV track and bumper spring were damaged.
A subsequent investigation determined that the detonated mine was one of three TMA-4 mines buried diagonally in the road. The "dog bone" on the M1 mine roller had knocked off the fuse of the center mine. A second mine had been crushed by two passes of the M1 with mine roller, three passes by an M2 Bradley and three passes of a M113 - without detonation. The CEV had detonated the third mine.

  • Factions had to proof their own work first. U.S. soldiers then proofed to the designated standard. This reduced the threat to TFE equipment. TFE standard was three sweeps with an M1 Mine roller followed by removal of 12 inches of the road surface with a CEV blade.

  • Junior officers and non-commission officers who coordinated with factions to resolve problems were thrust into a difficult diplomatic role. Emphasis was placed on problem solving in unconventional settings characterized by uncertainty.

  • Breaching was limited to daylight operations only. The danger associated with breaching operations was far too great to be undertaken at night when visual detection was absent.

  • Vehicle spacing during breaching operations was a consideration that always had to be analyzed and was normally dependent on terrain. The formula in FM 5-34 should be reviewed to ensure minimum safe distances from explosives.

  • It was always prudent to reproof roads after a thaw. Frozen ground sometimes inhibits the amount of over pressure on buried mines. When the ground thaws, these effects are greatly reduced. In some instances, mines may even rise to the surface when the ground thaws. Thus, reproofing was always done on routes after a period of cold weather.

  • To increase situational awareness, newly arrived soldiers were paired with experienced soldiers. Soldiers who had worked with the factions shared valuable information learned from past experiences, which served to groom situationally-alert soldiers.

Working with Factional Engineers

A TFE engineer company commander provided a perspective on the Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Muslim factional engineers with which his unit habitually worked and supervised during mine-clearing operations.

"Factional engineers were not very well equipped. A typical engineer clearing party consisted of five or six soldiers who were engineers during the war. Most "rookie" engineers were demobilized after the war; thus, a large number of engineers who showed up at demining sites were either lieutenants or sergeants. The clearing party normally had one old unreliable truck and one old Russian metallic mine detector. Factional engineers normally carried mine probes." A limited common sense was necessary for safety and efficiency of factional de-mining operations. The factional engineers were not as well trained or equipped. Sharing tips on techniques made their jobs easier and more productive. Factional mine detectors were not always safe to use in a minefield. Loaning mine detector added safety and speed to the mission."

Working with factional engineers brought about many challenges. In Bosnia, assessing factional engineer capabilities and effective planning were important; however, maintaining good working relationships with the factions proved critical.

  • Generally, the same soldiers from a factional unit showed up to conduct mine clearing each time. Pairing the factional soldiers with the same U.S. soldiers each time had many benefits. Once the familiarity and working relationships were formed, coordination was much smoother. Linkup procedures and locations became routine; U.S. soldiers became familiar with a specific unit's strengths and weaknesses. It also helped in assessing what assets and equipment the unit had. Standards were easier to enforce and the U.S./factional team was more productive.

  • Peacekeeping operations can extend for months or years. The primary interaction between factional and TFE engineers occurred during mine-clearing operations. During winter months when mine clearing was sometimes postponed because of the danger, contact was maintained with factional engineers to sustain continuity for the procedures and techniques developed during previous missions together. Otherwise, re-establishing relationships and techniques would have taken a long time.

One engineer company commander in Bosnia invited FWF soldiers to observe U.S. training and conducted weekly meetings with the factions with which his company worked. This gesture not only built trust but also helped to deter conflict by displaying the professionalism and proficiency of U.S. forces.

Local Population Considerations

In a peacekeeping environment, the civilian population plays a significant role. The welfare and safety of civilians was paramount to the success of the overall mission. Mission analysis for mine-clearing operations must take this into account.

A True Story

A TFE element and a factional mine-clearing party were clearing a minefield near a farmer's field. As standing operating procedure (SOP), the factions stockpiled the mines, followed by TFE EOD personnel who destroyed the mines on location with explosives. On this particular day, EOD ignited the time fuse as all personnel involved in the mission moved to a safe position. Shortly thereafter, a soldier identified a farmer moving down a trail toward the stockpile of mines that were about to be detonated. The soldiers got the attention of the farmer and diverted him away from the stockpile. Another civilian man, unseen by the soldiers, was behind the farmer and continued to move toward the stockpile. Before the man could be alerted, the mines exploded. Fortunately, the civilian received only minor injuries.

LESSONS LEARNED: Before undertaking mine-clearing operations, a reconnaissance should be conducted to identify potential routes into the area. CA personnel should coordinate with town leaders and alert them that mine-clearing operations are being conducted. This information should also be disseminated at the CIMICs. PSYOP teams should distribute leaflets and post signs along routes into the area. The area must be isolated with guards to prevent civilians from entering the area. Bullhorns should be used to broadcast (in the local language) safety warnings about mine-clearing operations.

As the factions cleared into the ZOS toward the IEBL, TFE soldiers provided the necessary engineer expertise, security, and coordination as the rival factions cleared routes toward each other.

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