The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers: Mine-Clearing/Demining Operations: Developing Engineer Experts

Mine-Clearing/Demining Operations: Developing Engineer Experts

Captain Darren LeMaster

I believe that we need to develop engineer experts in the U.S. Army who possess both the knowledge and the capability to perform mine-clearing operations. During the past four years, our engineer soldiers have operated in areas contaminated with minefields and unexploded ordnance (UXO)–in Bosnia-Herzegovina and more recently in Kosovo. Their greatest challenge is that they typically lack both clearing/demining training and demining equipment. I believe that we failed to utilize opportunities in Bosnia to train; evaluate; and establish tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) for new demining equipment. Additionally, U.S. engineers are ignorant of basic foreign mines and UXO render-safe procedures. With these limitations, it is essential that a staff engineer becomes knowledgeable about basic humanitarian demining fundamentals.

This article outlines the fundamental procedures of humanitarian demining operations as described in lessons from the French Army Engineer School, where I attended the Humanitarian Demining Course in Angers, France. The article also includes information from missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and outlines some of the basic responsibilities of a properly structured demining operation.

Clearing vs. Demining

FM 20-32, Mine/Countermine Operations, Chapter 9, differentiates between the terms “clearing” and “demining” by describing clearing as operations for a military purpose and demining as operations typically for a civilian population (humanitarian purpose) after hostilities cease. In FM 20-32, the terms are defined as follows:

Clearing involves the total elimination or neutralization of mines from an area. It is not usually conducted under enemy fire, but it can be conducted by engineers during war or after hostilities as part of nation assistance.

Demining is the complete removal of all mines and UXO to safeguard the civilian population within a geopolitical boundary after hostilities cease. It is an extremely manpower- and tune-intensive operation and is normally contracted. Although not a formal Army mission or function, engineers and Special Operations Forces may provide special expertise in training demining organizations, acting as advisors, and taking the lead in providing clearing equipment or techniques that can be useful in demining operations.

Whether clearing/demining operations involve the military or nongovernmental organizations, the overall objective is the same–to remove contamination and provide a safe area. And whether monitoring mine-lifting activities, conducting mine-clearing or humanitarian demining operations, or identifying a piece of a cluster-bomb unit, the critical factor is to determine if an area is safe. When soldiers are questioned about the safeness of an area, their answers will vary significantly based on their knowledge of the basic principles and organization of demining operations–training, information collection and surveys, planning, the mission, and mine-awareness training programs.

Mine Experts

Who are the U.S. Army mine experts? The knowledge is spread throughout various Army specialties:

* Explosive-ordnance-disposal (EOD) personnel, the technical experts in identification, render-safe procedures, and destruction or neutralization of ammunition, land mines, submunitions, and pyrotechnics.

* Special Operations Forces, who are currently instructing humanitarian demining efforts in numerous countries and possess a language proficiency, rapport, and cadre training ability to do so.

* Engineers, who have the basic knowledge of mine detection, demolitions, minefield reduction or breaching, and technical and tactical employment of U.S. mines.

Most foreign armies, to include the French army, have a combined engineer/EOD specialty. The U.S. Army lacks this type of expertise. Because the EOD and Special Operations Forces communities are relatively small and have a distinctly different mission, engineers have been forced into assuming the lead role in UXO/clearing operations.

In my opinion, nongovernmental organizations are often best suited to demining operations because of their experience, training, and structure. However, I believe that we also need engineers who are experts in clearing operations and identifying UXO/mines. We need engineer staff NCOs or officers who can advise commanders during missions in and around contaminated areas. To develop such experts, training should include information on–

* Safe operational procedures (a fundamental knowledge of clearing operations).

* Proper demining equipment usage and techniques (TTP).

* Facilitation of a unit UXO/mineawareness training program.

* Families and characteristics of mines, submunitions, and pyrotechnics.

It is important to understand how mines and UXO affect battlefield operations due to changing factors such as temperature, wind, vegetation, and trees. An understanding of humanitarian demining operations, such as those conducted in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is necessary for the safe execution of military operations. Regardless of the mission TTP produced at the Engineer School, a bottom-line and fundamental knowledge of demining operations, such as the French humanitarian demining training, is needed now at the unit level in order to modify TTP to site specific mission factors and requirements. The goal is not to train deminers but to provide a basic knowledge so that when mine-clearing operations are conducted or observed due to a military necessity, the missions are conducted safely.

Demining Training

Numerous humanitarian demining training programs exist today, ranging from various nongovernmental organization programs to the United Nations Humanitarian Demining Training Program. The programs are very similar with respect to the type of training; however, each program is adapted to fit the local area, the personnel trained, and the type of contamination.

The underlying goal in Bosnia-Herzegovina was to develop a national-level demining training program to provide deminers for the local areas. The core functions of a demining program are individual and leader training, preoperations procedures, minefield marking, and survey training. A professional training staff is necessary, in addition to a suitable place to conduct training that simulates the operational area. Additionally, selfdiscipline is an essential factor to consider during training because of the seriousness of failing to conduct clearing tasks properly.

Individual/Leader Training

The training conducted depends on the initial knowledge level of the personnel being trained. The French approach to individual demining training is divided into the following basic tasks:

* Mine and booby-trap procedures.

* Prodder, trip-wire, and mine-detector procedures.

* Marking procedures.

* Actions on encountering a mine.

* Demolitions training.

* Job responsibilities.

Preoperations training establishes a basic knowledge of how to conduct a specific clearing mission:

* Setting up a clearance worksite.

* Site operational procedures.

* Reporting procedures.

* Equipment checks (detector and personal-protection equipment).

* Actions in case of injury and medical-evacuation procedures.

Personnel who demonstrate proficiency and leadership skills during the training process become leaders for the demining teams. In addition to individual training, selected leaders learn leadership skills, site-reconnaissance procedures, and route- and area-clearance methods. Typically, leaders manage the operations of three 2-man teams. The employment of these teams depends on the terrain, types of mines, detection methods, contamination information, and knowledge of each of the deminers. Demining leaders manage the daily demining operations and must know the psychological limits and mental condition of the deminers.

Training in Bosnia

In 1997, as a part of the Stabilization Force initiative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the 16th Engineer Battalion’s Task Force Catamount set up a program to train local Bosnian military deminers on humanitarian demining techniques. Based on the United Nations Humanitarian Demining Training Program and some aspects of other programs, the initiative focused on the local mines and incorporated the knowledge level of deminers participating in the training. The program, which established humanitarian demining standards for the Entity Armed Forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, resulted in the following lessons learned:

* Knowledgeable instructors and quality interpreters were essential. Interpreters had to translate military terminology and technically specific words for proper communication to occur in either direction. Complicating translation even further was the fact that there were multinational instructors, which sometimes made two translations necessary.

* The location of the training played a significant role. An outdoor training area that simulated the local contaminated areas and minefield characteristics and a proper classroom environment were required for a successful training program.

Although the trainees were technical experts at mine employment, destruction, and render-safe procedures, even the most knowledgeable deminer learned procedural aspects of humanitarian demining. The most notable improvement was the establishment of safety procedures in accomplishing demining tasks ranging from basic demolitions and proper use of equipment to the safe conduct of operations in the minefield itself.

One of the biggest challenges was that instructors from the U.S. engineer units had little to no hands-on experience on some of the technical aspects of demining. However, the group discussions and lessons shared among the experienced deminers from various geographical areas within Bosnia-Herzegovina helped make up for any instructor shortcomings.

Some of the challenges deminers faced in Bosnia-Herzegovina included the fact that the deminer had fought near or on the ground he was demining and had possibly lost family or friends; family issues, with the foremost concern being how his family would be supported if he was injured or killed; and recent mine strikes that had killed or injured other deminers.

Minefield Surveys

Intelligence and reconnaissance are the first steps of the mine-clearing process. The United Nations Mine Action Center formalizes this in a series of three standardized reports: the Mine/UXO Incident Report, Level One Survey (General Survey); Level Two Survey (Technical Survey); and Level Three Survey (Cleared-Area Completion Survey).

Level One Surveys provide information on the general location of contamination to help establish low- and high-risk areas, set priorities, and establish a database.

Level Two Surveys outline the conduct of a detailed technical survey to determine the contaminated-area perimeter — establishment of safe and danger areas. The survey identifies the types of mines, patterns, and vegetation and reference points and concludes with marking the area.

Level Three Surveys are the final reports that determine that the area is demined after operations. This survey involves turning over the land to the local government and recording the report at the national level.

No final reports of clearing were conducted during operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. There was a need to maintain an up-to-date record of areas cleared by the military since there was no documentation on the areas cleared during the presence of the initial United Nations Protection Force. Documentation of the extent of military clearing operations–such as checkpoints, camps, and expansions and who conducted the clearance–is unknown. Most of the available clearance information is based on soldiers’ knowledge that was passed on from unit transitions or even from foreign soldiers’ visits to multinational camps.

Information Sources

Minefield information is gathered from a number of sources, to include hospitals, police stations, local governmental organizations, local civilians, international organizations (such as the United Nations/NATO), former warring-faction records, and local military forces. The objectives are to determine the force responsible for the contamination, reasons for mining, date and age of the ammunition, capabilities and characteristics of ordnance, and skills of the minelayers in order to determine proper clearing operations.


The problems encountered with information collection are significant. The language barrier is the primary obstacle. Other problem areas include the difficulty in obtaining reports due to destruction and loss, conflict in determining accuracy in space and time, imprecise reports, withholding of information for personal gain, local government conflicts, and the fact that the soldier who laid the mine is not the person who is taking it out.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, general problems included lost records, false reports, and the fact that battle lines fluctuated many times over the same ground. Opposing forces typically changed the original configuration of the minefield. The essential aspect is the collection of minefield information before an operation: How many mines are present? What are the pattern(s) and type(s) of mines? Who laid the mines? This was a significant challenge for the Stabilization Force and the Entity Armed Forces–the engineers on the ground. To obtain firsthand knowledge, the Entity Armed Forces tried to find the engineers who had originally emplaced the minefield, but they often had little success.

Demining Missions

Demining missions are highly detailed, dangerous, and time-consuming operations that involve identifying and clearing all contamination from an area. The missions include site setup and operations in the safe area; operations in the danger area (demining with or without a detector); and demolitions (storage, handling, transportation, and destruction methods).

Site Setup

Site setup is critical to safe demining operations. The safe area contains a command post (radio), check points where the locals/ journalists and deminers enter the area, a medic post, a designated helipad, a scrap-metal point, explosive- and equipment-storage areas, a shelter or rest area, and lifted (in the French army, it is neutralized) mine-storage area (see figure above). Each aspect contains a specific function in the overall operation of the mine area and prevents accidents caused by improper storage or transport or lack of control onsite.

Demining Operations

Most humanitarian demining operations involve a mine detector, a probe, or both. Section leaders are responsible for organizing and modifying the detection techniques based on the weather, terrain, types of mines or UXO in the area, and other site factors. The clearance method and approach are typically determined in the site reconnaissance or Level Two Survey. Highly detailed TTP outline procedures for clearing operations, to include safe working distances, methods for marking lanes, establishment of safe lanes, and neutralization (a French army term) or destruction of mines once they are found.

It is outside the scope of this article to describe the demining techniques taught during the French Humanitarian Demining Course, but the planning factors used by the French verify that humanitarian demining is a time-intensive process. For example, on open terrain, a platoon (20 trained deminers) can clear only 600 square meters in 4 hours. In heavy vegetation, the same platoon can clear only 60 square meters in 4 hours.

Final Survey

After completion of demining operations, boundaries are marked, the final Level Three Survey is completed, and the area is handed over to the local government. This handover is critical in establishing a legal transfer of the area and assurances that the area is 99.6 percent clear of mines to a depth of 15 centimeters.

Quality assurance and quality control are critical factors during minefield surveys and demining operations. Observers from the United Nations Mine Action Center or agents of the organization funding the demining operation typically handle external checks. Routine inspections during the demining operation ensure safe operations and proper clearance.

Military organizations are particularly well-organized to conduct both demining and clearing operations such as this. In fact, civilian nongovernmental organizations and the structure of the United Nations Mine Action Center demining teams are very similar to the structure of a military platoon. The complexity of the overall mission regarding interaction with local governments and agencies, civilians, and other nongovernmental organizations and the overall lack of technical training (knowledge of foreign mines and UXO) lead to high-risk operations that are not normally the responsibility of U.S. Army engineers. Technical training is the key, and the nongovernmental organizations have the expertise to perform demining operations. Critical lessons learned and approaches from humanitarian demining can be applied to military clearing operations that are conducted due to a military necessity. Because of time limitations, military clearing operations may not consider all operational aspects at the same level of de tail that humanitarian demining does.

Mine-Awareness Training Programs

Mine-awareness training programs educate people to the danger of mines and UXO. The programs emphasize the importance of the contamination threat, risk involved with living in contaminated areas, and notification of the threat area. The programs disseminate information through posters, pamphlets, comic strips, stickers, T-shirts, newspaper articles, and radio announcements. The best distribution centers are churches, schools, and hospitals since typical mass-media technology such as television is not available to most of the people affected by mines.

The key to successful training programs is to establish them at the national level for standardized initiatives, information processing, and coordination of local demining programs. Local host-nation organizers are necessary to confirm that the message is adapted to the audience–along with being short, simple, and direct, the message must be politically correct. This assessment is best accomplished at the lowest level. Minefield information is also collected and reported through the local representatives to higher-level demining cells. The objective is for regions to continue awareness programs that are established by organizations such as the United Nations or the International Red Cross.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, U.S. soldiers from psychological operations, EOD, and local civil-affairs teams–in conjunction with engineers–participated in a mine-awareness program. However, the key to a successful mine-awareness program is the establishment of local and regional coordinators, with assistance from international aid organizations. Miles of minefields were marked during the time of the Implementation Force and Stabilization Force, and until the local training program educates the local people to the need to leave minefield-marking material for its intended purpose, the mission will continue. This is just one of many mine-awareness problems that arise. Civilian organizations are best suited for this type of operation.


I believe that it is necessary to establish additional engineer training and expertise so an engineer staff NCO or officer can advise commanders of threats and considerations involving operations in contaminated areas. Engineer expertise is required to support operations that are focusing where contamination is prevalent. Whether the operation is a military area clearance or a nongovernmental organization humanitarian demining, the desired result is the same–a safe area. Important lessons can be drawn from humanitarian demining procedures when conducting clearing operations due to military necessity. Engineer staff officers can implement unit training programs and provide input to the overall operational considerations.

Captain LeMaster is assigned to the 864th Engineer Battalion Combat Heavy, at Fort Lewis, Washington. He attended the French Army Humanitarian Demining Course in 1997 and served in Bosnia-Herzegovina as the MND (North) Mine Action Center OIC and B/16th Engineer Battalion XO. CPT LeMaster is a recent graduate of the Engineer Captains Career Course.

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