2013 To Walk the Earth in Safety: Europe
A Bulgarian military officer and J.J. Fitzgerald, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, gaze at the river that flows by the Chelopechene military depot that blew up in 2008, polluting the grounds of the depot and surrounding area, including a portion of this river, with unexploded ordnance. Photo courtesy of John Stevens, PM/WRA, U.S. Dept. of State.
The second smallest continent, Europe is the birth place of Western civilization. Today, 28 of Europe’s countries are members of the European Union, and 26 members of NATO are European. In the last two decades, Central and Eastern Europe have undergone profound political and economic transitions since the fall of the Soviet Union and the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Extensive landmine and battle area clearance efforts, largely supported by the United States, have made much of Eastern Europe mine impact-free. However, explosive remnants of war that remain from World War II (WWII) and the Balkan conflicts are still found occasionally throughout the continent. Current U.S. clearance and destruction efforts in Central Europe and the Balkans largely focus on stockpiles of excess arms and aging munitions and explosive remnants from WWII and the Yugoslav conflict. Since 1993, the U.S. has provided more than $319 million in funding to help rid the region of these dangerous legacies.
Enver Hoxha’s regime in Albania, which lasted from the end of World War II until his death in 1985, stockpiled immense amounts of arms and munitions throughout the country. In the transitions of the late 1990s, looting of poorly secured or abandoned military depots resulted in the widespread proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) and munitions. Highlighting the dangers of unstable and unsecure munitions, the Gërdec military depot, where some stocks of munitions were being demilitarized or repackaged for foreign sales, suffered catastrophic explosions in 2008. The explosions killed 26 people and injured more than 300, damaged over 2,300 homes, and left extensive unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination in the depot and surrounding area.
Before and after shot at the Gerdec UXO remediation site in Albania. The giant craters left by the catastrophic explosions during the 2008 disaster have since been carefully cleared of UXO and filled in thanks to U.S. assistance. Photo courtesy of John Stevens, PM/WRA, U.S. Dept. of State.
After the Kosovo crisis in 1998–1999, landmine contamination remained along Albania’s border with Kosovo. As a result of clearance efforts coordinated by the Albanian Mine and Munitions Coordination Office, including extensive U.S. support provided through the Slovenian-based organization ITF Enhancing Human Security, Albania declared itself mine-free in October 2009.
From FY1993 through FY2012 the United States invested more than $33.7 million in conventional weapons destruction (CWD), including humanitarian mine action, in Albania.
In FY2012 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided $4,034,000 for the following CWD programs in Albania:
- ITF Enhancing Human Security (ITF) concluded four years of UXO clearance operations at the Gërdec military depot disaster site at the end of November 2012. ITF contracted these clearance operations to Sterling International (now Sterling Global), which hired the subcontractor EOD Solutions to complete the work. See the related press release at http://1.usa.gov/YI8YEB.
- NATO Support Agency completed its third year of stockpile reduction at the Uzina e Lëndëve Plasës Mjekës (ULP Mjekës) facility in Albania. Funds enabled further destruction of excess and deteriorating munitions, including munitions derived from the Gërdec catastrophe site that were safe to transport and utilize at the Mjekës site.
At the request of the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albania, and through coordination with PM/WRA, the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency SA/LW Program conducted a physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) assessment in Albania in October 2011. During the PSSM assessment, the team provided recommendations at three ammunition depots concerning suitability and upgrade requirements to meet international standards for the long-term storage of conventional munitions. With U.S. support, Albania has taken giant strides toward reducing its stockpiles of conventional munitions.
[The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) granted $40,000 to the Regional Approach for Stockpile Reduction (RASR) initiative to further regional confidence-building and information-sharing on stockpile reduction. The fifth RASR workshop was held in Durrës, Albania, April 23–25, 2012, and gathered 40 CWD managers and experts from the Balkans.]
During the 1992–1994 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, landmines were employed along Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan. Armenia also possesses an unknown amount of stockpiled mines remaining from the Soviet era. In 2005 a landmine impact survey (LIS) conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) identified 102 suspected hazardous areas (SHA), of which 50 were restricted and 52 unrestricted, covering a total area of 321 square kilometers (124 square miles). This data is now out-of-date and new surveys are necessary to determine the true extent of contamination. In August 2012 The HALO Trust (HALO) visited 17 of the SHAs during their resurvey of the Armenian LIS and reduced the suspected area by 80 percent.
In FY2012 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided $391,000 to support a resurvey of previously cleared areas in Armenia in order to further reduce the 102 SHAs identified in the 2005 LIS. The Fondation Suisse de Déminage (Swiss Foundation for Demining or FSD) was awarded the non-technical survey grant in September 2012. FSD, HALO, the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, and the Armenian Ministry of Defense are currently coordinating efforts to complete the resurvey in order to prioritize clearance tasks.
In FY2012 the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) Program tasked four personnel from the Kansas Army National Guard (KANG) and one subject-matter expert (SME) from the U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Training Center (HDTC) to conduct a train-the-trainer course in Yerevan on basic humanitarian demining techniques for 18 Armenian military personnel, two national police, and two Armenian Center for Humanitarian Demining and Expertise (ACHDE) employees. The participants received a two-week course of instruction on mine action methodology, manual clearance techniques, metal detector training, and technical survey. HDTC also provided support to KANG personnel before their deployment. Overseas Humanitarian Disaster Assistance and Civic Aid funded HDTC travel costs, both to Kansas to assist KANG and to Armenia, totaling $8,819.
Additionally, in September 2012 a faculty team of SMEs from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School provided assistance to ACHDE in Ejmiatsin to enhance the capacity for inter- and intra-agency collaboration in HMA in Armenia.
Abandoned munitions in the Agstafa region of Azerbaijan.
Landmine contamination in Azerbaijan largely remains from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia between 1988 and 1994; however, abandoned Soviet-era munitions dumps and unexploded ordnance (UXO) also pose a significant threat. Conducted in accessible territories from September 2002 to June 2003, a landmine impact survey (LIS) identified the scope of the mine and UXO problem in the country. The results of the LIS indicate that Azerbaijan suffers from extensive mine and UXO contamination in the war-torn districts along the ceasefire line, on its border with Armenia, and in the Agstafa and Fuzuli districts. As a result of the LIS, resurveys, and clearance operations since 1998, the area of contamination was reduced to approximately 125 square kilometers (48 square miles) by the end of 2011. With additional land release in January–June 2012, Azerbaijan further reduced the estimated contaminated area in the territory it controls to approximately 112 square kilometers (43 square miles). The LIS did not cover areas under the control of Armenia, including Nagorno-Karabakh, the Nakhchivan region, and other small areas. The extent of the mine and UXO problem in the areas occupied by the Armenian forces, in the districts of Cabrayil, Kelbacar, Lacin, Qubadli, Zangilan, and parts of Agdam and Fuzuli, is not known but is expected to be severe.
Since 2000, the United States has invested more than $29 million in conventional weapons destruction programs in Azerbaijan, supporting mine and UXO clearance, training, equipment procurement, and expanding humanitarian demining teams, which include mine detection dog (MDD) teams. These funds have been primarily directed through the Azerbaijan National Agency of Mine Action (ANAMA) and have significantly reduced the area of contamination, restoring access to land and infrastructure.
In FY2012 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided $365,000 to support mine and UXO clearance in Azerbaijan under the oversight of the NATO Support Agency. Under contract with ANAMA, the first 14-month phase of this 28-month project was to clear mines and UXO from 19 square kilometers (7 square miles) of the former Soviet military testing facility and training field in the Jeyranchel area along the Azerbaijani-Georgian border. The United States is the lead donor nation for this project. The government of Azerbaijan is deeply concerned with the situation in Jeyranchel and has committed to contribute 50 percent of the project’s cost. ANAMA has completed the technical survey of the area and will complete clearance of 9 square kilometers (3.5 square miles) of land using manual, mechanical, and MDD teams.
John Stevens, the PM/WRA program manager for its Conventional Weapons Destruction projects in Southeast Europe, points at a PROM-1 bounding fragmentation mine during an assessment visit. This PROM-1 was one of many discovered by the STOP Mines nongovernmental demining organization during a technical survey in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo courtesy of John Stevens, PM/WRA, U.S. Dept. of State.
After the 1992–1995 conflict associated with the break-up of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) suffered from the greatest degree of contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in the Balkans.
From FY1999 through FY2012 the United States invested more than $92 million in conventional weapons destruction programs in BiH for mine clearance and disposal, survivor assistance, mine risk education, battle area clearance, arms and munitions reduction, and the improvement of national physical security and stockpile management capacities.
In FY2012 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) granted $4.3 million to ITF Enhancing Human Security (ITF) to continue providing mine action and munitions stockpile destruction assistance to BiH. ITF contracted with various BiH demining firms and demining nongovernmental organizations to conduct landmine survey and clearance using a tender process with the aim of releasing a total of 1,500,000 square meters (371 acres). ITF also contracted with Quality Solutions International to perform another annual assessment of select demining organizations in the country. In addition, PM/WRA funding enabled Sterling International (now Sterling Global) to demilitarize stocks of surplus and unstable munitions in the BiH Ministry of Defense’s inventory.
In September 2012 the U.S. European Command’s Humanitarian Mine Action Program supported three train-the-trainer missions to increase the humanitarian demining capacity of deminers in BiH’s armed forces. These missions were led by a team of active-duty personnel and graduate-studies faculty who are subject matter experts in the field of interagency collaboration, strategic communication, and collaborative leadership from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.
Close up of the patch on the sleeve of a Sterling International (now Sterling Global) explosive ordnance disposal specialist at the Chelopechene (Bulgaria) disaster site. Photo courtesy of John Stevens, PM/WRA, U.S. Dept. of State.
Though Bulgaria declared itself mine-free in 1999, the country still faces security challenges from its stockpiles of excess Cold War-era conventional arms and munitions. Highlighting the dangers of the stockpiles, an ammunitions depot in Chelopechene, Bulgaria, near the capital Sofia, exploded catastrophically in 2008. The explosion destroyed the depot, polluted the adjoining nature areas with unexploded ordnance (UXO), damaged homes in the surrounding area, and forced the temporary closure of the international airport in Sofia and part of the highway that rings the capital.
From FY1993 through FY2012 the United States invested more than $8.2 million in various forms of conventional weapons destruction (CWD) in Bulgaria.
In FY2012 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) spent $1,585,000 to complete the clearance of UXO at the Chelopechene munitions depot blast site, enable private companies in Bulgaria to destroy their last stocks of obsolete man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) and related components, and dismantle their manufacturing capacity for these older systems. The MANPADS and related items no longer had serious military value but could have posed a threat to global aviation if they fell into the wrong hands. The final phase of the multi-year UXO clearance project at the Chelopechene depot blast site was executed through a PM/WRA grant to ITF Enhancing Human Security, which contracted the blast cleanup work to Sterling International (now Sterling Global). The underwater UXO clearance was successfully completed at the end of November 2012 by the Montenegrin-based Regional Center for Underwater Demining.
At the request of the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense and coordinated by the U.S. Embassy in Sofia and PM/WRA, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Small Arms and Light Weapons Program led two interagency munitions depot assessment visits to Bulgaria in FY2012. The goal of the visits was to assess and offer recommendations on improving ammunition physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) practices and procedures as Bulgaria works to reduce and consolidate large quantities of excess ammunition and explosives. During these week-long assessments and after a subsequent FY2013 assessment visit, DTRA, PM/WRA, and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory provided thorough interagency assessments of Bulgarian army, navy, and air force ammunition storage sites. At the end of each visit, the teams recommended practical and procedural PSSM improvements and provided the U.S. Embassy and the Bulgarian government with a formal report concerning suitability and specific requirements to upgrade selected sites to meet NATO and international standards.
The plot of land to the left is being farmed safely and productively in northern Croatia after it was cleared of landmines. The adjoining plot of land, overgrown with brush after it was mined during the war, could be just as productive once it is cleared of the “hidden killers.” Photo courtesy of John Stevens, PM/WRA, U.S. Dept. of State.
Croatia emerged from the Yugoslav conflicts (1991–1995) as the second-most landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) affected country in the Balkans.
Despite sustained clearance activities, Croatia is not yet mine impact-free. Through its own extensive efforts, including properly budgeting for mine action, combined with assistance from the United States and other public and private donors, Croatia has achieved remarkable success and developed significant national mine action capacity. However, while it has made great strides in mine action and battle area clearance, Croatia’s stockpiles of Cold War-era munitions continue to age beyond their usefulness. Some of Croatia’s munitions depots need to be upgraded or closed to reduce the chance of unplanned explosions and also to reduce the financial burden of security and maintenance. In 2011, a brush fire caused a munitions depot near the town of Knin to explode, destroying the depot, forcing the temporary evacuation of nearby villages, and polluting the immediate site and environs with UXO. The Croatian military has been cleaning up the area since the explosion.
From FY1993 through FY2012 the United States invested more than $33.8 million in conventional weapons destruction (CWD), including humanitarian mine action, in Croatia.
In FY2012 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) granted $1.1 million to the Slovenia-based ITF Enhancing Human Security for the reduction of an anticipated 250 tons of surplus ammunition and clearance of approximately 260,000 square meters (64 acres) of mine and UXO-contaminated territory in four counties in Croatia.
Georgia continues to have explosive remnants of war (ERW) contamination around former Soviet military bases. Significant progress has been made to address the contamination along its administrative boundary lines with the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which remains from intra-national and inter-ethnic conflicts in the regions of South Ossetia (1988–1992) and Abkhazia (1992–1993). In South Ossetia, contamination in the Gori-Tskhinvali corridor resulted from a week of fighting between Georgian and Russian forces in 2008. Notably, in November 2011, as a result of efforts supported by the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA), The HALO Trust (HALO) declared all 336 known minefields in the Abkhazia region to be mine impact-free.
Georgia also faces threats from stockpiles of old and deteriorating munitions remaining from Soviet times. Conventional munitions destruction both bilaterally and through NATO began in 2008 and ended in 2012. NATO is now soliciting funds for a follow-on project to clean up a partially exploded Georgian military ammunition depot and to further build the Georgian military’s explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) capacity.
Since 1998, the United States has invested $29 million in conventional weapons destruction programs in Georgia aimed at training, clearance and safe disposal of landmines and ERW, and destruction of excess and aging conventional weapons and munitions.
In FY2012 PM/WRA provided $1,231,490 to HALO to support clearance and maintain a residual capacity in Abkhazia. HALO completed manual and mechanical clearance of the Soviet legacy minefields in Sagarejo and Akhalkalaki, clearing 27,680 square meters (7 acres). HALO also cleared three newly discovered minefields, and is currently conducting clearance on a fourth minefield. In addition, HALO deployed two teams of Georgian deminers to survey and clear the Barisakho minefield and trained two teams to conduct surveys and clearance locally at Red Bridge, a mined border crossing between Azerbaijan and Georgia.
With PM/WRA support, HALO continued to maintain the residual capacity of the Abkhazia Mine Action Office (AMAO) and EOD emergency response teams. The EOD teams were called out a total of 172 times in the first eight months of 2012, and they safely disposed of 1,939 items of unexploded ordnance and ERW from the Abkhaz military stores. These teams also continued to assist the de facto Abkhaz authorities to destroy at-risk small arms.
An unexploded cluster munition at a battle area clearance site in Kosovo was cleared by MAT Mondial under a PM/WRA-funded grant to ITF Enhancing Human Security. Photo courtesy of John Stevens, PM/WRA, U.S. Dept. of State.
Kosovo was contaminated in the 1990s by landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) from conflicts between the Kosovo Liberation Army and the army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). NATO airstrikes, which led FRY forces to withdraw and end the conflict, also contributed to the ERW contamination. Although in 2001 the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo declared Kosovo nearly landmine/ERW impact-free, in subsequent years the degree of remaining contamination proved greater than originally calculated. The Kosovo Security Forces’ Mine Action Center and The HALO Trust believe the problem is still understated and, consequently, are currently conducting fresh surveys. In addition, unexploded ordnance (UXO) from World War II have been found in Kosovo. Regardless, Kosovo is close to achieving the national capacity to deal with vestigial mines and ERW.
Since the conflict’s conclusion in 1999 through FY2012, the United States has provided more than $29.1 million for humanitarian mine action in Kosovo.
In FY2012, as part of its efforts to reinforce Kosovo’s national mine action capacity, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) awarded $260,000 in support of mine and ERW clearance as follows:
- ITF Enhancing Human Security provided training on the maintenance of mine detectors and Schonstedt magnetic locaters to the Kosovo Security Force’s civilian Mine Action Center.
Sterling International (now Sterling Global) executed a task order to procure and deliver three Ford Ranger 4x4 pickup trucks to the Kosovo Security Force’s civilian Mine Action Center. The trucks’ fuel efficiency and off-road capability will improve the Mine Action Center’s ability to conduct quality assurance and quality control of clearance activities and to respond quickly to reports from citizens around Kosovo who discover landmines and ERW.
World Wars I and II and the Yugoslav conflict in the 1990s left contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Montenegro. As a result of extensive clearance efforts supported by the United States, Montenegro is now largely mine impact-free. Despite this, Montenegro continues to face security challenges from large stockpiles of aging and poorly secured Cold War-era munitions—small arms and light weapons that it inherited from the former Yugoslavia.
From FY2007 through FY2012 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided more than $7.6 million in funding for humanitarian mine action (HMA) and conventional weapons destruction (CWD) programs in Montenegro.
In FY2012 PM/WRA granted $1.3 million for HMA and CWD efforts in Montenegro. ITF Enhancing Human Security was funded to assist in the disposal of surplus and unstable munitions that remain in Montenegrin Ministry of Defense and Police Directorate stocks. This final phase of assistance is currently under review by the United States and Montenegro.
The U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Training Center (HDTC), using more than $10,000 in Overseas Humanitarian Disaster Assistance and Civic Aid funds, deployed one expert to Montenegro in direct support of U.S. European Command’s (USEUCOM) participation in Dolphin 2012. Operation Dolphin 2012 involved the deployment of six specially trained dolphins and U.S. Navy personnel, resurvey of portions of the Bay of Kotor, and related training for Montenegrin, Croatian, and Slovenian military divers. PM/WRA contributed $100,000 for logistical costs to Dolphin 2012.
Prior to the dolphin operation, the USEUCOM HMA Program had partnered with the Montenegrin Navy’s Marine Detachment (Naval Special Warfare) unit in a September 2012 training exercise in which U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal technicians trained Montenegrin Navy divers to search, locate, and mark underwater ERW with global positioning system coordinates during an “Underwater ERW Technical Survey Train-the-Trainer Mission.”
During NATO airstrikes on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999 that led to the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, the runway and military aircraft shelters at the Ponikve airfield were bombed. Now that the Ponikve airfield will be used for commercial airline flights to facilitate tourism to Serbia’s scenic western region, PM/WRA helped to fund a technical survey for unexploded bombs in the grassy area between the runway and the shelters, such as the one pictured. No unexploded bombs were discovered in areas examined with PM/WRA’s funds. Photo courtesy of John Stevens, PM/WRA, U.S. Dept. of State.
The conflicts surrounding the break-up of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1990s left landmine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) contamination in Serbia, as did the 1999 NATO air strikes to force the cessation of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Despite extensive clearance efforts, Serbia is not yet free from mines and ERW but has achieved nearly full national capacity to deal with remaining contamination.
From FY1993 through FY2007 the United States invested more than $5.6 million in conventional weapons destruction (CWD) programs, including humanitarian mine action in Serbia and Montenegro, which split into two countries in 2007. From FY2007 through FY2012 the United States contributed more than $13.7 million toward this effort in Serbia.
In FY2012 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) granted $1 million to ITF Enhancing Human Security for humanitarian mine action and battle area clearance, including clearance of an anticipated 570,000 square meters (141 acres) in central and southern Serbia and a 300 meter-wide (328 yard) area adjoining the runway at the Ponikve airfield, which is suspected of being contaminated with ERW from the NATO bombing in 1999. Of the $1 million, $300,000 was allotted for the Ponikve clearance task.
Excess stockpiles of small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) and munitions in Ukraine are being destroyed under a U.S.-led NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) project. In addition to the United States and the European Union, the following 17 donor countries have contributed to the project: Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. This is one of the largest weapons and munitions destruction projects in history, and represents the largest PfP project undertaken by NATO.
Ukraine requested help to eliminate 133,000 tons of munitions and 1.5 million SA/LW. The stockpiles, mainly dating from the Soviet era, are a threat to public safety and the environment. From 2006 to 2011, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided approximately $10 million to support Phase I of this PfP project, which was completed in May 2011. A total of 15,000 tons of munitions, 400,000 SA/LW, and 1,000 man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) were destroyed during Phase I. The NATO Support Agency executed these weapons destruction efforts on behalf of donor states.
In FY2011 the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) supplied $3.1 million to the PfP project to support the destruction of 5,000 tons of munitions and 83,182 SA/LW, and the United States agreed to continue as the lead nation for Phase II. In FY2012 PM/WRA provided $1.5 million in funding for Phase II, which commenced in April 2012. Phase II involves the destruction of approximately 3 million landmines, 76,000 tons of ammunition, and 366,000 SA/LW. As of December 2012, 5,973 tons of ammunition and 75,388 SA/LW items were destroyed.