Ord­nance still a threat in Le­banon long af­ter sum­mer war

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By David Axe

NAQOURA, Le­banon — Ital­ian troops as­signed to the United Na­tions In­terim Force in Le­banon are just be­gin­ning to clean up un­ex­ploded clus­ter bombs and other mu­ni­tions from last sum­mer’s war be­tween Is­rael and Hezbol­lah.

TheIs­raeliarmyre­cent­ly­trained many of the U.N. bomb dis­posal teams, teach­ing them to rec­og­nize Is­raeli mu­ni­tions de­signs.

Lt. Col. Cic­carelli Gior­dano, com­man­der of an Ital­ian army cavalry reg­i­ment that be­longs to a bat­tle group based on a hill­top near the Mediter­ranean coast, is philo­soph­i­cal about the dan­ger­ous ground his troops tread.

“You know what hap­pens af­ter war,” he said.

There are 11,000 troops — in- clud­ing 3,000 Ital­ians — as­signed to the U.N. force, up from 3,000 just six months ago.

The 28-year-old U.N. peace­keep­ing force is adding ad­di­tional troops and heav­ier weapons, such as tanks and how­itzers, in a bid to de­ter fur­ther con­flict. The Ital­ian con­tin­gent is drawn from forces re­cently with­drawn from Iraq.

The Ital­ian bat­tle group’s ex­pe­ri­ences in Iraq and in pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity for the 2004 Olympics in Athens have helped pre­pare it for the dan­ger­ous job of de­fus­ing or de­stroy­ing un­ex­ploded mu­ni­tions.

InIraqandAthens,the­bomb-dis­pos­al­spe­cial­ist­stried­out­newrobots and ar­mored suits orig­i­nally de­signed for the Bri­tish army.

“Towork­safely,theyal­wayswork from an ap­pro­pri­ate dis­tance,” Cpl. Rocco Ra­puno said of the six-man ord­nance dis­posal squads.

That means us­ing the clawe­quipped, tracked ro­bots and other re­mote-con­trolled de­vices — in­clud­ing one that works like a gi­ant screw­driver at­tached to a long pole —to­takea­partord­nance­an­dat­tach small ex­plo­sive charges to de­stroy the pieces. The sounds of th­ese con­trolled­det­o­na­tion­spe­ri­od­i­cal­lye­cho off the area’s sea­side cliffs.

The squads wear bulky ar­mored suits that pro­tect against shrap­nel and blasts.

U.N. sur­vey teams pro­vide maps that are marked with known lo­ca­tions of ord­nance.

Ital­ian pa­trols also take tips from lo­cal res­i­dents and pass the in­for­ma­tion­a­long­tothe­bomb­squads­for in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The dis­posal spe­cial­ists sor­tie in con­voys that in­clude an ar­mored ve­hi­cle,atrail­er­forther­obot,an­dan am­bu­lance.

“Yes­ter­day we found a new clus­ter­bomb-con­tam­i­natedarea,”bomb squad Capt. Ge­orge Colombo said. Min­utes­later,adis­tant­blasttes­ti­fied to an­other squad’s work.

The U.N. es­ti­mates there are be­tween 700,000 and 1 mil­lion un­ex­ploded mu­ni­tions in south­ern Le­banon, some left over from the 1978 Is­raeli in­va­sion.

Less than 15,000 have been de­stroyed thus far, said French Lt. Col. Jerome Salle, a U.N. spokesman.

Col. Salle stressed that mil­i­tary ord­nance dis­posal teams are re­spon­si­ble for clear­ing those ar­eas near their bases. The rest of south­ern Le­banon is be­ing cleared by civilianteams­fromtheMineAc­tion Co­op­er­a­tion Cen­ter in the coastal city of Tyre.

But based on the slow progress, “We will be here a long time,” Col. Gior­dano said.

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