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Asharq Al-Awsat Exclusive: Benghazi Minesweeping

Asharq Al-Awsat Exclusive: Benghazi Minesweeping

Tuesday, 28 November, 2017 - 11:00
Landmines gathered by Libyan army forces. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

One of the most dangerous operations carried out by the Libyan National Army, despite its lack of proper equipment, is the dismantling of thousands of bomb-laced traps left behind by extremist organizations in sites near the outskirts of Benghazi.

Battle ruins, empty shells and bullet holes piercing through streets, parks, and children's playgrounds are what the war with extremist militias has left behind.

Transforming the scene from a civilian city to a life or death gamble, militias planted explosive webs that blow up soon as a door handle is turned or a light switch is flicked.

Explosives that have been camouflaged to blend in their surroundings have put the lives of civilians at risk.

Some camouflaged land mines detonate with massive effects equal to those caused by large-scale airstrikes.

Asharq Al-Awsat continued its series of reports on Libya by delving to the details of a large operation aimed at driving out remaining terror pockets in Benghazi.

Just like a merchant counting his merchandise, an army officer kneeled counting over a batch of removed explosives –some of which have been defused, others not.

“Step away. We do not want you causing us a disaster here,” he warned as some of the devices still had their fuses intact and ready to explode.

He said that some of them were powerful enough to collapse entire buildings.

Landmines played a great role in slowing down the advances of the Libyan army and in delaying the liberation of Benghazi’s sea port and many other public premises.

The military priority is to breach the minefield quickly in order to create a safe path for troops or ships.

Speed is vital, both for tactical reasons and because units attempting to breach the minefield may come under enemy fire. Both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines must be removed, although only in the lanes through which troops or vehicles are planning to advance.

ISIS leftovers reveal that the group was an expert in producing traditional camouflage bombs that can be easily planted anywhere.

Bar-shaped fuses will dispatch an electric signal upon being touched to explosive containers set up some three to five meters away.

Bar landmines come in different colors so they completely blend into any surrounding, some are brown to be hidden over dirt areas, some are black to match street asphalt.

“The militants did not even shy away from booby-trapping public rest rooms,” the officer added.

In the event of spotting the bar fuse, a tracing process is needed to find the matching explosive container, explained the officer. The opposite is also valid—in case the container is found first, its installed fuse must be found.

In at least three terror pockets, instruction papers and sketches on bomb-making methods were found. Some were taken from online websites, others written by hand.

Explosive vehicles and landmines were prepared by ISIS militants for ambushes found in almost every area that the army has been able to capture.

The terror group employed a wide range of conventional and non-conventional devices, in some instances booby trapping a mobile phone.

At least five families were trying to return to their homes in Benghazi, but soon enough they drove their cars away after realizing the danger that still lurked in their city.

"Most of bomb squad engineers have been killed trying to neutralize these landmines across Benghazi," said an army official, who was accompanying Asharq Al-Awsat.

"The army does not have equipment for detecting all sorts of mines, some of which were built in a very primitive and dangerous way.”

“You need training and special equipment. Army squads are working with bare hands and we lost about 80 percent of the personnel involved in demining efforts. But we trained new groups and we brought in new officers to complete the mission," he added.

The main methods used for humanitarian demining on land are: manual detection using metal detectors and prodders, detection by specially trained dogs and mechanical clearance using armored vehicles fitted with flails, tillers or similar devices.

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