Tecnologia Militar recently had the opportunity to accompany Colombian demining troops on a humanitarian demining mission.
The opportunity came at a point at which the Colombian government had just declared a further 75 areas free of the contamination of landmines and had simultaneously requested an extension to allow the nation to fulfil its commitments under the Ottawa Convention.
It is, perhaps, worth noting that Colombia has officially registered a total of 693 areas of the country contaminated by antipersonnel mines, improvised explosive devices (IED) and other unexploded ordnance. Of this number, some 346 areas have been cleared to date. The other half of the task that remains is being dealt with by the Army’s No. 1 Engineers Humanitarian Demining Brigade (BRDEH) and the Explosives and Demining Group of the Marine Infantry (AEDIM). TM accompanied the latter unit on a mission aimed at decontaminating an airfield in the rural area of Montes de Maria, on Colombia’s north coast, and another clearing operation in the same area to destroy unexploded ordnance.
After ensuring the availability of a helicopter for aerial evacuation in the event of a mishap, the 15 men of AEDIM’s Senescal unit moved overland to the target area, where prior study and evaluation had revealed the presence of an unexploded 60mm mortar shell. Once the shell was located, appropriate searches were conducted to verify there were no people within 200m on the airfield, and the required signs were posted to warn of the presence of dangerous explosives. While the exact location of the shell was demarcated, other members of the unit were busy preparing the explosive mixture which would be used to destroy the grenade. After placing the charge on the grenade and withdrawing to a safe distance before detonating it, a physical check of the location verified the shell had, indeed, been completely destroyed.
In a separate incident, an IED had been detected in a location that had previously been used as a regular campsite by members of the now defunct FARC-EP guerrilla movement. Here, Tecnologia Militar witnessed a detection and location mission using the VMH3CS system developed by German specialist Vallon, which AEDIM personnel used to verify the area did not contain additional devices or mines that might pose a danger.
AEDIM and the other units within the Colombian armed forces that undertake these dangerous but critical tasks receive special training in both manual demining techniques (TDM in the Spanish acronym) and those using technical equipment (TDEM). Detection, location, delimitation (neutralization) and clearance (destruction) of mines, IED and unexploded ordnance are tasks that require courage and professionalism. They are also tasks that, sadly, remain necessary in order to preserve life and increase public safety.
Erich Saumeth C.