- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

FORT HOOD, Texas U.S. soldiers invading Iraq could head onto a battlefield littered with land mines and unexploded bombs some dropped by American warplanes.
Iraqi forces have planted millions of mines during various conflicts over the past 20 years, and military officials say an estimated 20 percent of bombs dropped by U.S. planes hit the ground without exploding.
"If you drop 1,000 bombs, up to 200 of those actually may not explode," said Sgt. 1st Class Gary E. Rhiner, a member of a combat engineer battalion standing ready at Fort Hood to deploy to the Middle East with the Army's 4th Infantry Division.
"There are numerous reasons why [the bombs] don't go off," he said. "Not everything is reliable, and that includes not only ours but also the Iraqi bombs."
Soldiers are given a thorough education on the dangers of unexploded ordnance. Additionally, specially trained Explosive Ordinance Disposal units accompany forces deployed to the region.
Each unit is "kind of like the bomb squad in a police department … trained to identify all the military explosives or civilian explosives out there," Sgt. Rhiner said.
Infantry troops are taught to "keep hands off" unexploded bombs, said Sgt. Rhiner, who last week briefed about three dozen journalists on the dangers of land mines and other unexploded ordnance.
The journalists are waiting near Fort Hood to deploy with the 4th Infantry Division. The 4th Infantry is made up of about 20,000 troops originally bound for southern Turkey to open a northern front against Iraq in case of war.
While the 4th Infantry's heavy equipment sits on ships outside Turkey, the Turkish parliament has not given approval for U.S. troops to enter the country. Should permission be granted this week, troops most likely will scramble to fly into Turkey and eventually may head south toward Baghdad through the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, where the land mine problem is significant.
As many as 2,500 people have been killed by mines in the Kurdish region since the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Mines caused 81 of the 1,364 total U.S. casualties, published reports said.
Iraq's has refused since 1991 to cooperate with the United Nations in calculating the size of the land mine problem.
"We fully anticipate that from the time we cross the border [into Iraq], we're going to hit mines," Sgt. Rhiner said.
With detection tactics sometimes rudimentary, troops are taught to avoid areas that are known to be or show indications of having been mined.
They are trained to look for fresh patches of pavement on roads, pieces of wood or other debris on a road, signs placed on trees, posts or stakes, tire tracks that stop unexplainably, an unkept yard or field, or areas simply avoided by local civilians.
When troops do encounter land mines, which can be expected particularly around enemy military posts, the first step is to mark the area with signs. Next, a disposal unit is called in to identify the precise type of explosive found and either blow it up in place or attempt to remove it.
But in war, things don't always go as planned. The situation can be complicated in the open battlefield by unexploded bombs.
Perhaps the most dangerous ones are the individual bomblets packed into cluster bombs dropped by American and allied planes during the Persian Gulf war. Because of their small size, they easily can go unnoticed. Tens of thousands of such bombs were dropped in the 1991 Gulf war.
"One of the reasons [the threat] is so serious is that soldiers have a natural curiosity," Sgt. Rhiner said. "We're just afraid they'll pick something up or touch something they're not supposed to or, God forbid, try to collect some type of war trophy."

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