Figure 1: Map of BiH Mined Area


When you first arrive as a member of the Multinational Brigade North (MNB(N)), you are full of promise. You know your team of highly trained professional soldiers will make a difference in the lives of those that live in BiH. Then it sets in. Your six-month tour of duty doesn’t allow you time to finish what you start. So what is it you can do to make a difference in only six months? This is the exact question that started the process of developing the National Guard Demining Initiative in BiH. This initiative was undertaken by the U.S. Army National Guard, an adjunct to the U.S. Armed Forces. There are multitudes of issues you can work to resolve in BiH. MNB(N) plays a supporting role in most of these, but we wanted to do something more. We wanted to bring a fresh idea to the area of operation (AO) that would make a significant impact on one of the many critical issues facing BiH. To make our choice, we focused on two key concerns: “What will have the biggest impact on the daily lives of the people?” and “What will instill confidence in the international community to speed up economic recovery?” We chose the issue of demining.

Rethinking How We Do Demining

The Modern Peacekeeping Environment

So why choose demining? As a military officer, I have always been told to state the bottom line up front no matter how bad. So here it is: seven years after Dayton, progress in clearing mines in BiH is far from what is required to create a safe and secure environment. Containment (marking/fencing) efforts are almost non-existent.

Impact on Stabilization Forces (SFOR)

The mine threat in BiH is widespread, of low density and dispersed. As the mine area map shows (Figure 1), the mine risk is mainly oriented on the Inter-Entity Boundary Line (IEBL). The IEBL is the dividing line between the entity armed forces at the end of hostilities as defined by the Dayton Peace Accord (GFAP). This heavily mined area is probably the single most important factor affecting our continued support of two key military tasks.

“Provide a Safe and Secure Environment”

The first key military task affected is our ability to “provide a safe and secure environment” in BiH. So far in 2003, mine strikes have caused 13 deaths and five serious injuries1 in the MNB(N) Area of Responsibility (AOR) alone. More than 2,100 sq km of BiH requires a “Technical Survey” to determine if the area is mined.2 Technical evaluations have estimated that 400 sq km to 1,000 sq km of this suspected area will require “Clearance Operations” of some sort3 that include mechanical and manual clearing techniques. The key property of these operations is they must meet humanitarian demining standards if we are to provide a permanent solution for a safe and secure environment.

Hold on a minute. Military teams don’t perform humanitarian demining. So why are we focusing on this issue? Mainly because we have to. In the modern world of the coalition forces, the military is not always provided with defined limits for tasks that their forces must effectively perform to meet coalition objectives. This is especially true in the world of Stabilization and Security Operations (SASO) like those we are currently performing in BiH and will soon perform in Iraq.

As we have seen in recent headlines, our military leaders are also realizing this fact. As you read this article, military leaders are working to implement these new priorities before they become roadblocks to security around the world. If we are to be successful in this transitional process, we must be active at all levels of expertise. While military leaders are focused on changing policies that address our demining limits, we at the tactical level must be ready to respond with a well-developed plan of action to meet these new SASO priorities. The plan we are proposing is the first step in meeting one of these new priorities. Our proposal combines the critical strengths of solid leadership and unified command that military organizations possess with the technological advantages of a modern, well-equipped humanitarian demining team. Such military organizations are something the U.S. Army National Guard is uniquely suited for. The U.S. Army National Guard in itself is an exceptional organization known worldwide for its ability to quickly adapt to the ever-changing requirements of international security environs. Our success in managing dynamic peacekeeping operations is well-known.

The U.S. Army National Guard is currently involved in the New Horizons exercises that focus on developing emerging doctrine and operational skills for humanitarian and civil assistance missions. These mandates combined with our operational experience in peacekeeping operations will thrust the U.S. Army National Guard into the forefront of modern humanitarian doctrinal development. This is why I say we must perform this mission of thinking outside the military norms of yesterday.

“Maintain Freedom of Movement”

The second key military task affected by the BiH mine risk is our ability to “maintain freedom of movement”. Freedom of movement is a key ingredient in eliminating threats to economic development and to allow displaced persons and refugee (DPRE) returns. But today’s slow and inconsistent demining processes are unable to meet the demands of these humanitarian missions. Over the past few years, the average clearance rate of all demining operations in BiH is 6 sq km per year. That’s about 1.5 percent of the suspected area of risk. The cost to date for all demining in BiH is $100 million (U.S.) or an average of $16.6 million per year. To accomplish even this minimal level of success involves the work of the Armed Forces in BiH (AF BiH) demining teams and the efforts of 42 non-governmental organizations (NGOs)/commercial activities that are accredited to demine by the Bosnia-Herzegovina Mine Action Center (BHMAC). These NGOs and commercial activities provide most of the mechanical support (flails and vegetation cutters) required but at a premium cost. The AF BiH demining teams have far less equipment but they have the most experienced and well-trained deminers available; plus their hearts are in it. Of this 6 sq km total per year, the International Trust Fund for Demining (ITF) stated that NGOs and commercial activities completed 2.3 sq km in 2002.4 Based on this finding, the AF BiH deminers appear to perform the bulk of the demining efforts with the least amount of equipment and personnel.

In his book Progress in Humanitarian Demining: Technical and Policy Challenges, Richard Garwin has estimated it will take 1,000 years to demine the world based on today’s technology and practices. A thousand years is too long to wait for a mine-free world. We must act now to change the world we are handing to our children and their children. As today’s military leaders, it is our duty and our responsibility.

The International Community’s Influence

And let us not forget the International Community (IC) is also watching. Based on various inputs from groups such as the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other key diplomatic agencies, the IC goal for demining success in BiH was determined to be 12 sq km per year.5 The IC feels this level of reduction is a key indicator for the economic growth of BiH and is one of the “confidence” barometers they use to judge the ability of BiH to create the secure and stable environment that is paramount for joining the European Union (EU). This confidence level equates to investment opportunity and faster economic recovery for BiH. So here’s some more bad news. Based on the success of the current demining approach in BiH, it will take 60 to 200 years to demine BiH. The United Nation Development Program (UNDP) estimates the funding required to accomplish this demining at $26 million per year.6 It is easy to see we lack the funds, we lack the time, and we lack the patience to sacrifice the life of another innocent human due to our inability to change an outdated military paradigm.

What Do We Change?

So the question for our team now is what do we change? 1LT Richard Weber, Officer in Charge (OIC) of the SFOR 12 Mine Cell, completed the initial concept for a Demining Brigade in early 2003. The original concept was to develop a Demining Brigade that could meet BiH domestic mandates as well as other international mandates. 1LT Weber’s unique design integrated the strengths of a military organization with the technological advantages of a modern humanitarian demining team. There have been various equivalents of lesser size (i.e., Berlin Wall team, etc.) but never before has there been such a forceful effort to make humanitarian demining a permanent military mission. Before handing over the reins to SFOR 13, 1LT Weber developed a well-thought-out technical design for the brigade that became the basis for the Table of Organization and Equipment (TOE) used in our current design. Based on this initial design, SFOR 13 was ready to move the concept to the next level by building military and diplomatic support for the initiative.

Time to Take It Up a Notch

Building Diplomatic and Military Support

To build this support, we needed to show why this humanitarian demining team would be successful where others failed. So what are the failings the initiative needed to answer? While some of the lack of success may be attributed to the nature of the mine threat, much is due to inefficiency, mismanagement and the appearance of corruption in the bureaucracy. To answer these concerns, we concentrated on four critical areas of focus.

1. An Integrated demining effort is required: First was the need for a demining operation that is integrated from the state level down to the individual deminer. The current method of demining does not adequately integrate demining operations and wastes valuable time and resources as such. Military clearance procedures, although well integrated and fast in nature, do not provide the 99.6 percent mandated by International Humanitarian standards in SASO environments. Our initiative must integrate mechanical means, manual demining efforts, Explosive Detecting Dog Team (EDDT) use and containment practices. Although we use these four methods today, they are not integrated at the level required to be consistently effective. NGOs, commercial activities, and AF BiH are all used to perform these tasks in a fractional manner due to competing agendas and interests.

2. The BHMAC and government control: The BiH Demining Law of February 2002 set standards for BiH demining in line with international protocols. This law is a crucial leverage for the success of demining in BiH and must be fully supported by our proposal. This law allowed the BiH government to endorse the BHMAC by providing two key mandates:

  • BHMAC is the sole national authority for the coordination of mine clearance.
  • BHMAC is the only institution responsible for national standards and quality assurance.

Since the formation of the BHMAC and the reorganization of its regional offices, some institutional coherence has been achieved. However, many national interests continue to prevail in the decision cycle for prioritization and resources allocation. By providing the BHMAC with the operational tools necessary to double its success rate, its ability to manage relevant national interests will be substantially reinforced.

3. Donor Fatigue: The general decline of world economies has caused international charitable aid and donor government funds to decline from previous years’ contributions. One such example is a substantial donor to BiH demining efforts: the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). For 2003–2008, their funding is reduced to $750 million as compared to $1.0 billion for the previous five-year period. Antagonizing this lack of funds is the lack of progress toward BiH unification. This is affecting donor focus on BiH and is allowing other more successful countries to take funding precedence. These IC donations are usually funneled through two main support areas: NGOs and the International Trust Fund for Humanitarian Demining (ITF).

  • NGO Aspects: NGOs provide exposure and financial conduits for international institutions and donors. While some NGOs provide only management services, some only provide mine clearing resources while others even undertake demining operations as quasi-commercial activities. However, commercial activities tend to bid on the “easier” jobs as profit and risk factors limit their investment in the full range of equipment available. NGOs are also usually the first to attract international donors, as donors don’t pay directly to governments due to suspicion of corruption. Bear in mind that with the exception of canine countermining, NGOs are not critical to BiH demining based on activities to date.

  • The ITF and Commercial Aspects: Commercial demining is paid for by international donors and thus competes with NGO and AF BiH demining efforts for funding. Commercial demining teams also suffer from the stigma of corruption throughout BiH. This corruption manifests itself in many ways and casts suspicion on the BHMAC and the ITF. The ITF is the major funding tool for commercial demining is BiH. But these funds are waning also. In an article on the ITF web site, Mr. Cempersek, ITF Director, stated, “There are a lot of changes in the donors’ decisions as to where they want to place their money, we are afraid that the donations will go down and not up.”7 We wish to maintain our relationship with the ITF but reduce our dependence on NGOs and commercial operations.

4. AF BiH Aspects: Here’s the bottom line for the AF BiH: The Instructions to Parties (ITP) obligates the AF BiH to demine and they are also obligated to sustain this capability. AF BiH deminers are very capable manual deminers but lack consistent funding. The BiH government is providing most of the administrative costs, but this may not survive the AF BiH restructuring now underway. The reality is that since Dayton, AF BiH demining has been largely sustained by donated capital and equipment. Donations have also maintained this equipment, bought consumables, and purchased accident insurance that is required on the demining laws. While factional interests sometime still prevail, at the grassroots level, AF BiH soldiers wish to maintain their demining momentum. A commitment to demining is not so obvious at the senior level of the AF BiH command. AF BiH commanders view demining as a drain on the already austere defense budget and do not support incorporating the current 470 deminers into the new force structure. If we are to be successful, we must integrate demining units into the proposed 12,000 soldier-restructuring plan and maintain a minimal force for combat engineers (mobility/countermobility). What the AF BiH Commanders fail to see is that the IC sees their current demining components as the only element of the AF BiH producing a positive contribution to BiH unification. As the AF BiH restructure to join Partnership for Peace (PfP), BiH demining expertise is seen as the specialized contribution the AF BiH can make as a potential member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In this sense, our demining initiative has global implications.

Focusing on the Future

Although it was a bold design, the implications of funding challenges, the changing nature of the AF BiH restructuring, and the reduced IC’s commitment to BiH demining demanded that we make changes to 1LT Weber’s initial design. After review of the design by the MNB(N) Commander, the SFOR Commander and staff, the U.S. Ambassador to BiH, the OSCE, the Office of the High Representative (OHR), and other members of the IC, we modified the initiative to meet the new sociopolitical dynamics. CPT Kyle Shaffer, OIC of the SFOR 13 Mine Cell, assisted by MAJ Tom Barnett, SFOR 13 Joint Military Affairs Liaison Officer to SFOR and IC, answered the challenges posed by these forward looking diplomatic and military leaders. The design now focused on creating a more flexible military demining unit with a humanitarian mission at the state level of BiH that can be phased in based on national and international mandates. The design focused on several key objectives that must be supported; specifically, the design must:

  • Provide significant performance improvements for AF BiH demining rates
  • Be supported with a sustained, adequate and regular funding arrangement
  • Be integrated into the ongoing AF restructuring efforts
  • Concentrate responsibility and capabilities under one management organization
  • Create a single organization with domestic and international mandates
  • Be supported by a legitimate NATO/European Union (EU) supervisory team

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