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The Munitions Challenge in Albania
by Steve Brown

Political controversy, economic chaos and increasing criminality have faced Albania since its democratic revolution in late 1990. Anti-government demonstrations erupted into violence, which took the form of attacks against state facilities including public offices, schools, factories and military depots. Of particular concern were the attacks against ammunition and weapons storage areas. Over 600,000 weapons and several thousand tons of ammunition and explosives were looted and some 16 ammunition storage areas, known as Hot Spots, were set ablaze resulting in massive unexploded ordnance contamination of the sites and surrounding areas.

Issue 4.1 | February 2000 | Information in this issue may be outdated. Click here to link to the most recent issue.

NATO Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Storage Support

As part of its commitment to democratic reform, the government of Albania joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) in 1992 and was one of the first countries to join the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program with the ultimate goal of NATO membership. NACC sponsored expert teams that undertook intensive assessment missions to Albania in 1997 and 1998 concentrating on the following issues:

  • National Security concept and democratic control of the Albanian Armed Forces (AAF).
  • Reorganization and functioning of the Ministry of Defense, general staff, and structure of the AAF.
  • Development of a Command, Control, and Communications Information (C³I) system.
  • Assessments of the standards of basic military infrastructure as well as defense planning and budgeting.
  • Storage and handling of ammunition, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and security of military depots.

Ammunition Storage and Disposal Implementation Team

The latter function was undertaken in late 1998 by an eight-man military Ammunition Storage and Disposal Implementation Team (ASDIT) with members from the UK, United States, Denmark, Belgium and Italy. They carried out the training of Conventional Munitions Disposal (CMD) of 16 Albanian officers, the planning and conduct of UXO clearance tasks, EOD clearance planning, provision of ammunition storage and management training for 14 officers. They also began training for the initial Ammunition Storage Area (ASA) safety, operational assessments, improved chemical analysis training and gave advice to Albanian laboratory personnel.

AT mines and UXO stored in a farmer's tin shed.
photo c/o HALO Trust

EOD and Ammunition Storage Training Team (EOD and ASTT)

The mission was successful, which provided the AAF with the basic skills necessary to conduct operational tasks confidently. This mission also concluded that further assistance was necessary to assist in the establishment of a full concept of operations, signal NATO's commitment to capacity building and to maintain momentum in resolving the problem. The NATO Political Military Steering Committee (PMSC) authorized the deployment of a second mission, the EOD and Ammunition Storage Training Team (EODASTT) in early 1999.

The mission was unique in many ways because a decision was taken to contract out the technical nucleus of the team to a commercial company by way of competitive tender. Mine Clear International, a UK-based company specializing in EOD operations, was selected and provided a team of two British and one Canadian, former military Ammunition Technical Officers (ATO). The team was completed by serving military staff from Italy, the United States and Denmark. Initially envisaged as a three-month mission, its success and immediate impact persuaded the PMSC to extend the mission incrementally until June 2000.


Assembled from Jan. 12 to Feb. 1, 1999, The second NATO mission's primary objective was "To provide expert EOD and Ammunition Storage planning, assistance, training and advice to the Albanian Ministry of Defence in order that the AAF can plan and safely conduct EOD operations at Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) contaminated sites, Logistic Ammunition Disposal operations and the rationalization and establishment of safe ammunition storage."

The mission goals for Explosive Ordnance Disposal was to assist the Ministry of Defence in forming an EOD organization, help in the production of all procedures for the organization, assist in the planning of Hot Spot clearance, validating ammunition disposal training, and procedures compliance are also a priority. Preparation of a storage plan in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence was essential for ammunition management as well as advising on the establishment of Ammunition Storage Areas (ASA) to reflect NATO standards and norms. Assisting in identification, establishment, validation of Logistic Disposal Operations (LDO), advice of demolition grounds for LDO, and providing technical support to a UKfunded demilitarization feasibility study was critical to success.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal

This element of the mission, which is considered to be the most important by the Albanians, progressed smoothly. As of Dec. 15, 1999, many goals had been met such as, the establishment of the AAF EOD organization management team, the provision of sufficient EOD equipment donated by NATO membercountries to equip current EOD teams, the introduction of donated EOD equipment into service and training in use and deployment. All of these goals were achieved as well as several more that followed. More influential ones were the reconnaissance of all 16 Hot Spots as well as the operation orders and associated planning documentation was prepared for each individual Hot Spot. The Hot Spot at Palikesht was totally cleared of UXO and clearance of a second Hot Spot at Mbrestan was commenced. All the lowlevel individual and collective training was completed and the commencement of CMD instructors training began for all AAF personnel.

The program was disrupted by the Kosovo crisis as AAF EOD resources, supported by EODASTT technical input, were re-tasked to deal with the Serbian cross-border KB1 sub-munitions, conventional artillery and mortar strikes in border areas. Other areas that needed attention were the stray NATO airdelivered weapons, the surveying and marking of mined areas in Albania, and the clearing of supply routes and emergency mine clearance and casualty recovery tasks from mined areas.

Ammunition Management

This very complex area can only be successfully achieved by a longterm program of assistance designed to develop a full technical ammunition management system. There will be a need to develop an external quantity distance protection system in conjunction with national, regional and local authorities. This will help develop health and safety practices within ASA to NATO standards as well as accident reporting, ammunition bans, technical data and ammunition historical records. There is a need to design new depots, control licensing and waivers on existing sites and develop a system to deal with conception, procurement, in service life and final disposal of ammunition natures. A tracking system that handles and earmarks war reserves, training issues and has overall visibility of the stockpile is also a necessity.

A full set of ammunition technical regulations would be an added benefit. The clear prerequisite to future storage planning was an ammunition program based on AAF future operational and training requirements. A spreadsheetbased scaling document was produced utilizing the NATO norm of 30 days general war for operations and individual training requirements. This document was carefully reviewed in conjunction with the Albanian General Staff to ensure that they understood the concept, the spreadsheet interaction and methodology, and that base information on the types of ammunition and weapon types could be validated. As of Dec. 15 1999, they had achieved full site surveys at 10 ASAs and completed full reporting on the findings, conclusions and recommendations and then passed on to AAF. A PC-based ammunition management system was developed and submitted in draft form to the AAF and eventually accepted. Finally, a development plan for a model ASA at Borizane was commenced.

Logistic and Explosive Ordnance Disposal

It has been agreed that this area can only realistically be addressed as a two-stage operation with stage one comprising logistics disposal by demolition and burning of that element of the stockpile which is identified or suspected of being dangerous by the AAF. Stage two would detail the fabrication of a permanent demilitarization facility in Albania. Just nine percent of the Albanian ammunition stockpile is less than 30-years-old. It was determined that as much as 90 percent of the stockpile will require disposal within the next 10 years, which is clearly a major challenge for the AAF. The key ammunition requiring logistical disposal is unopened ammunition in poor condition (800+ tons) as well as stock declared unserviceable by the AAF weighing up to as much as 3,000 tons. Another factor needed to be disposed of are the AP and AT mines as part of the Ottawa Treaty obligation (5,000 tons). Although progress in the explosive ordnance area is vital, real time activity has been exceptional. There is clearly a need for further support in the continued validation of EOD activity, in particular Hot Spot Clearance Procedures. The team is aware that some information has been lost in the translation and interpretation process. The training for further EOD operators will enable the Albanians to enhance current disposal operations, address the ongoing requirement to train EOD operators and to develop and implement a process to identify, select and train Albanian personnel as EOD trainers.

Future Task Areas

Others areas of EOD and ammunition management that require support are cataloging a system which would be a NATO standard system for all ammunition needs, but Albania does not currently possess a credible counterIEDD capability. An extension to the capability of the AAF EOD organization would be considered a logical enhancement. The ammunition stockpile requires a 100 percent surveillance program to ascertain serviceability. The AAF will require further training in this function. A number of bad handling and storage practices which are intrinsically unsafe have been identified and an initial course held in December 1999 will be supplemented by a depotbydepot program of active risk limitation measures.


Both the EODASSTT and UNDP Weapons Collections missions have proved extremely successful on a number of levels. In Albania they are seen as both a practical and symbolic indicator that the country is stabilizing and addressing fundamental security and safety issues. NATO has seen a vindication of its concept of the Individual Partnership Program within PfP believing success in such a technically complex area bodes well for addressing other specialist areas with confidence. NATO has also seen its first steps towards contracting military advisory tasks to prove successful with the hope that such future tasks will not be forced to rely on the allocation of scarce military personnel resources from member nations. The UNDP approach has vindicated the view that the collective responsibility and ownership engendered through this weapons collection program is the way forward, and hopes to replicate the approach in Albania and elsewhere.

Contact Information

MineClear International
Xerox Business Park
Mitcheldean, Gloucestershire GL17 0DD
United Kingdom

Telephone: +44-1594-545135
Fax: +44-1594-545101
Email: mineclearops@exlogs.co.uk