WASHINGTON -- More than 1 million Yugoslavian-made land mines scattered by warring factions throughout Bosnia are the biggest threat to a NATO peacekeeping force that would include 20,000 U.S. troops, according to senior military planners.
As many as 150 main battle tanks could be deployed with U.S. Army troops to deal with land mines -- heavily sown in the disputed areas most likely to be patrolled by allied forces -- as well as with potential guerrilla attacks aimed at sabotaging the peace.
Defense Secretary William J. Perry became concerned about the land mine threat after being briefed by Army officials in Germany earlier this month, according to spokesman Ken Bacon.
Military officials noted that mines and booby-traps caused more than 60 percent of U.S. casualties during the Vietnam War.
"We will be able to deal with some of them, but not all of them," an Army official said. "There are between 1.5 million and 4 million -- no one knows the exact number."
Most of the devices are made with plastic cases and planted by hand without any record, making them both hard to detect and dangerous to remove.
United Nations Protection Forces say the PMA2, a plastic fragmentation mine designed to wound or kill individuals, is the most lethal in Bosnia. Impossible to remove safely if detected, the mine must be destroyed in place.
"Our job will be even more difficult now that most of Bosnia is under snow," an Army expert said.
A key anti-mine tool will be the M-1 Abrams tank equipped with rollers and plows that are impervious to blast and fragments from anti-personnel mines. Once a tank-mounted roller detonates a single mine in a likely area, other Abrams tanks will simply plow up the minefield.
Unexploded mines that are unearthed by tanks will be destroyed on the ground by Army engineers.