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#405144 - 04/15/11 02:36 PM Clandestine airstrip destroyed
Marty Offline
A clandestine airstrip was destroyed today by the Special Assignment Group, a unit of the Belize Defence Force. Located inside the Shipstern Nature Reserve in the Corozal district, the illegal airstrip was, according to BDF experts, in the final stages of preparation for the landing of an aircraft, possibly in a couple of days. But tonight, whoever was planning on landing a plane there will have to make other arrangements as the facility was blown up by the BDF. According to demolitions expert Lieutenant Colonel David Jones, over fifteen thousand dollars worth of explosives were used today to blow huge craters in the over three quarters of a mile long runway.

Lt. Col. David Jones – Demolition Expert

“We were tasked to come and destroy it. The guys came in last week, did the reconnaissance. On] the reconnaissance they drove all the way up until the airstrip. Today when we got here, we had an obstacle about 500 meters prior to the airstrip, intentionally put across the road so we could not drive in so it delayed our task somewhat. We were still were able to achieve our mission. When we came in we noticed these leaves on the actual airstrip, it is probably to camouflage it from the air so we would not be able to notice. It is a clear indication that this airstrip was going to be used shortly.”

Patrick Jones - Reporter

You said that this airstrip, indications are that it was going to be used shortly, having that intelligence why not just take it out and wait for the plane to come down?

Lt. Col. David Jones - Demolition Expert

"Unfortunately there are quite a number of airstrips here. Normally once we are in the area, since we passed through the village of Maskall and the other houses that we passed, whenever we do that when we come to the area and do a covert observation and patrol they do not come in here again. The villagers saw us on the way in so that is a clear indication that they know what is going on. This is the modus operandi since we have been doing this for 15 years, this is the same thing we have results, when we try and wait if villagers have seen us. Since we were here and we were seen we decided to go ahead with the mission.”

Jones says that there a many other clandestine airstrips in the area that are just like this one that was destroyed today. And while he believes that blowing holes in the runway won’t deter determined drug smugglers, at least for now, there is one less illegal landing area to worry about. The BDF will continue to carry out aerial reconnaissance to make sure the damaged airstrip is not being repaired.

LOVEFM

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#405153 - 04/15/11 02:45 PM Re: Clandestine airstrip destroyed [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

B.D.F. blows up clandestine airstrip used for narco-trafficking

In the fight against drugs, last year News Five joined the Belize Defence Force as they destroyed a marijuana plantation in a field in the Orange Walk District. While those burning buds were for local use, narco-traffickers use Belize as a transshipment point. But the anti-drug war is being fought by security forces on all fronts, including in the jungles. News Five’s Jose Sanchez accompanied the B.D.F. today for the destruction of a clandestine airstrip in a northern reserve.

In November 2010, a Beechcraft Super King Air landed on the Southern Highway with two point six tons of cocaine from Colombia bound for the U.S. But not only highways are being used to land drug planes, local contacts for the cartels have been building their own airstrips. This morning the B.D.F. launched an operation from five a.m. that would take them through four hours of off-road driving to a site ten kilometers south of Sarteneja in the Corozal District in order to destroy it. We entered the Shipstern Nature Reserve that prevents logging; however, we came across an illegal logging site. And closer to the field, we unexpectedly had to leave the vehicles behind.

Jose Sanchez

Jose Sanchez

“Five hundred meters before we reached the illegal airstrip, we’ve reached a literal roadblock in our journey. Two weeks ago, the B.D.F. was out here on a reconnaissance mission and this area was clear. Now they are saying that two days ago loggers came, people who built this airstrip, and put these logs in our way so that no one can reach the airfield.”

David Jones

Lt. Col. David Jones, Chief of Staff, B.D.F.

“Last week, the guys came here to look at the airstrip because we had an area reconnaissance of the airstrip which confirmed that an airstrip was here. We checked with Civil Aviation, we checked with our ministry as well as National Security Council and we got the feedback that this airstrip was illegal. It’s on crown land; no one owns it. Subsequently we were tasked to come and destroy it. The guys came in last week. On the reconnaissance, they drove all the way on to this airstrip. Today when we got here, we had an obstacle about five hundred meters prior to the airstrip—intentionally put across the road so that we couldn’t drive in. So it delayed our task somewhat. We still were able to achieve our mission. When we came in here we noticed these leaves on the actual airstrip it is probably to camouflage it from the air so we may not be able to notice. It is a clear indication that this airstrip was going to be used shortly.”

When the all clear was given, we all pitched in to carry the explosives down the path and into the clearing. Lieutenant Colonel David Jones, B.D.F.’s Chief of Staff, is the demolition expert who has been supervising airstrip destructions for fifteen years.

Lt. Col. David Jones

“Starting with the destruction for each of these craters. We used a cratering charge, which has pilot hole and a main charge. We use the pilot hole to create a main little hole that is about two meters in the ground and about one foot wide. Then we put the main charge in. when the main charge goes in, that is about eighteen kilograms of granular explosion which goes into the earth and when we detonated that, the effect of the crater is what you see behind. There is quite a number of airstrips here. Normally, once we are in the area, since we passed through the village of Maskall and the other houses that we passed, whenever we do that, when we come to the area and do a covert observation and patrol they do not come in here again. The villagers saw us on the way in, so that is a clear indication, they know what is going on. So this is the modus operandi. We had reports of low lying aircrafts last week, previous weeks before which is why we came in here so we strongly believe that this one is used for illegal transshipment of drugs.”

At the end of the airstrip, a drum of water and evidence on the ground suggests that they ate sliced ham. Headlights with connecting wires suggest that they attached a battery when they needed to signal. And the field, according to the soldiers, did not have palms when they last visited the site.

Lt. Col. David Jones

“There is very little that we can do to stop these guys from stopping and filling these holes. Obviously with heavy equipment they can come in again and refill it as has happened in the past. But what happens now is that we continue aerial reconnaissance to confirm that this airstrip is not being upgraded. So whenever we do a cratering like this, we come in with the aerial reconnaissance confirm it is not being upgraded. If it is being upgraded, we come in and then we set up a covert op and then we come in and challenge anyone to land here and then take them out. It is a reserve and coming in here, we also noticed some logs that were cut. Obviously the signs were there; logging is prohibited in this area. So apart from the illegal clearing here, there is also logging that being done in this area that is illegal.”

But there is one more unfortunate effect of the clearing in the reserve. Upon a mound we could pick up obsidian flints, shards from broken mayan pottery and vases, one of which still had the paint markings visible. Essentially an undiscovered archaeological site was also destroyed by locals working for the narco traffickers.

Lt. Col. David Jones

“Having such an operation requires detailed coordination. It requires someone with good organizational skills and it requires a lot of money because those heavy duty equipment it is expensive. It is expensive to get them here, fuel is expensive, they need to pay manpower and probably over fifty-sixty guys were employed in working on this airstrip because first they had to clear the land. And if you can see, it is a big area to clear because all this area were trees. After they cleared the trees then they had to grade this area so that an aircraft could actually land. So it is quite expensive and I surely believe that they have local assistance and there is also foreign assistance, I believe, that is involved inth e illicit business of drug transshipment here. It looks narrow, but an aircraft of good size would have landed here. Judging from the length of the airstrip, I believe something really large could have landed here because normally for the smaller aircraft, they wouldn’t use about a kilometer of runway—they would probably use about six to seven hundred meters the most. But this one has at least about a kilometer so they were expecting something large here.”

Jose Sanchez

“The destruction of the airfield has been very successful; however, it’s only one day in three hundred and sixty-five days of the B.D.F.’s fight against narco-trafficking. Reporting for News five, Jose Sanchez.”


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#405154 - 04/15/11 02:47 PM Re: Clandestine airstrip destroyed [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

BDF Destroys Airstrip In Corozal District

In November, it caused a national uproar when a drug plane landed in the middle of the Southern Highway and got stuck there.

For most it was a real eye opener, to see a drug plane blatantly use one of the country's four major highways as a runway. But for the BDF it was nothing new. Belize's army has been destroying illegal airstrips for decades - and every year, they keep cropping up in the middle of nowhere.

And, with Belize's vast un-occupied land mass, there are plenty of places that fall in that nowhere zone. Today, we left out at 5:00 am for one of them, with the BDF. Our team of Jules Vasquez and Victor Noble just came back an hour and a half ago - and here's the story of their day's adventure:…

Jules Vasquez Reporting
Shipstern is in extreme northeastern Belize, that line to the left is the northern highway - to the right that blue area is the sea between the mainland and Ambergris caye and the yellow line in the north is the Belize Mexico border.

It is remote, barely accessible by road and probably the only way to get there is in these BDF super duty Ford Trucks which took us from the old northern highway to a group of fairly well kept - but still very rough - trails in the Shipstern Nature Reserve.

It is a reserve - covering an area of more than 27'000 acres but we found logs without the forestry departments stamp on them on the way - meaning they had been illegally extracted.

But that was just a passing curiosity - our interest was a clandestine airstrip in the heart of Shipstern.

But this felled tree made sure we couldn't get all the way there by vehicle because it was positioned to block the road.

But even with 400 pounds of explosives to haul in, the team soldiered on - carting it all into the area.

And what a sight it is. In the middle of the jungle, a vast clearing - giving way to a landing strip over a kilometer long.

The BDF immediately started deploying the 8 explosive charges at 100 meter intervals.

Leftenant Cornel David Jones, Demolition Expert
"We came out here today to actually destroy this airstrip in the Shipstern area. We brought the troops out here prior to reconnaissance that occurs last week. Last week the guys came here to look at the airstrip because we had an aerial reconnaissance of this airstrip which confirms that an airstrip was here. We check with civil aviation, we check with our ministry as well as national Security Council and we got the feedback that this airstrip was illegal. This is crown land and no one owns it. Subsequently we were task to destroy it. The guys came in last week and did the rec'y on the reconnaissance they drove all the way up on this airstrip. Today when we got here we had an obstacle about 500 meters prior to the airstrip intentionally put across the road so that we could not drive in. So it delayed our task somewhat. We still were able to achieve our mission."

"When we came in here we notice these leaves here on the actual airstrip. It is probably to camouflage it from the air so we may not be able to notice. Its a clear indication that this airstrip was going to be used shortly. Fortunately we are here now, we did the destruction. Initially starting with the structured for each of these craters, we used a cratering charge which has a pilot hole and a main charge. We use the pilot hole to create a main little hole that is about 2 meters in the ground and about 1 foot wide. Then we out the main charge in. When the main charge goes in that is about 18 kilograms of granular explosives which goes into the earth and when we detonate that the effect of the crater is what you see behind me."

And what an effect - it is1 We were treated to eight major blasts - spectacular, propulsive, and scary as the air expanded and debris came soaring at us from 250 feet away.

The soldiers went into the crater to show the scale of the damage to the runaway.

And there are 7 more like that. Serious, but maybe not irreparable damage:

Jules Vasquez
"This area has been flattened. Obviously there is a great deal of heavy equipment at their disposal and man power. What should stop them from just coming back here with equipment and filling back these holes?"

Leftenant Cornel David Jones, Demolition Expert
"There is very little that we can do to really stop these guys from come back and fill these holes. Obviously with heavy equipment they can come in again and fill it as has happen in the past. But what happens now is that we continue aerial reconnaissance to confirm that this airstrip is not being upgraded. So whenever we do a cratering like this we come in with aerial reconnaissance and confirm that it's not being upgraded. If it is being upgraded we come in and we set up a covert OP or we come in and try and challenge anyone to land here and then take them out."

Patrick Jones, Love FM News
"Last week when you came here obviously that obstruction was not here. Do you have any intelligence that tells you who is using this airstrip?"

Leftenant Cornel David Jones, Demolition Expert
"No we have absolutely no idea who may be using it. Anyone's guess is as good as mine."

Jules Vasquez
"But it is being used for the transshipment of drugs."

Leftenant Cornel David Jones, Demolition Expert
"Yes we strongly believe so. This is an airstrip, it's not declared by anyone, it's not really own by anyone, its government property. No one really own this property around here. We had reports of low flying aircrafts last week, previous weeks before. This is why we came in here. We strongly believe this one is being used for illegal transshipment of drugs."

Jules Vasquez
"A lot of people might think that 'wow Clandestine airstrip' but you told me on our way in that you've been blowing these up for fifteen years. These are all over the country."

Leftenant Cornel David Jones, Demolition Expert
"I personally have been doing this for over fifteen years."

Jules Vasquez
"More than one a year?"

Leftenant Cornel David Jones, Demolition Expert
"Sometimes up to four airstrips I destroy in one year. Sometimes two, sometimes three, sometimes only one. But this is the season, when its very dry like this. This is when we clamp down a lot of illegal airstrip."

And looking at the panorama of destruction, not the bdf craters, the flattened trees, the literally hundreds of shards of smashed, centuries old Mayan pottery - mulched to bits in the bulldozer's path, the litter - extending to even contraband cigarettes - all in a nature reserve - don't even register when compared to the lawless but massive imprint of the drug trade:

Jules Vasquez
"Obviously these people are working in tandem with licit people. People who have license their bulldozers or whatever is required. Obviously there are people nearby perhaps who are involved in this preparation of a clandestine airstrip illegal aerodrome."

Leftenant Cornel David Jones, Demolition Expert
"I am quite sure of that. Having such an operation requires detail coordination. It requires someone with good organizational skills and it requires a lot of money because those heavy duty equipment is expensive. It's expensive to get them here, fuel is expensive; they need to pay man power and probably over 50-60 guys were employed n working on this airstrip. Because first they had to clear the land and if you can see it's a big area to clear because all this area was trees. After they clear the trees, they had to grade this area so that an aircraft could actually land, so it's quite expensive and I surely believe they had local assistance and there is also foreign assistance I believe that is involved in the illicit business of drug transshipment here."

The explosives used cost a total of 16 thousand dollars. Jones says the BDF has intelligence that there are other airstrips in the area. They chose to destroy this one most urgently because on a recent trip, a BDF unit saw tracks form the plane's wheels on the runway.

The nearest settlement to the airstrip is the Mennonite community of Little Belize.

Channel 7


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