These lasers can be extremely disruptive to American
John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists
Most of the 6,900 U.S.
troops in Bosnia are deployed in the north.|
U.S. Warrant Officer Michael D. McGhee wears laser protective glasses in front of his AH-64 Apache helicopter. U.S. helicopter crews have begun using newly issued laser protective equipment after two crew members suffered eye injuries from laser beams.
(Amel Emric/AP Photo)
W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 4
Two American helicopter pilots flying peacekeeping missions over
Bosnia have had their eyes burned after lasers were aimed at them from
In response the United States has ordered all its helicopter pilots
flying over Bosnia to wear protective anti-laser goggles.
At first, U.S. military officials believed the incident was caused by
nothing more harmful than a laser pointer, like the small, hand-held ones that have become a favorite toy of children.
Pilots in Bosnia have reported numerous incidents where they have spotted a
small laser pointed in their direction and never regarded it as more than
This Times More Serious
But the Pentagon on Wednesday made it clear that the most recent incident was being taken more seriously.
Our belief is that this was an incident involving a laser that was not a
toy, said Pentagon spokesman Michael Doubleday.
Perhaps, say officials, it was a laser designator of the type that
thousands of weapon systems now use to improve accuracy. Many weapons from
the old Yugoslav military incorporated such devices.
NATO, however, hasnt ruled toy lasers out. We are assuming this was not any type of hostility, NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Stephen Kerrick said in Bosnia.
A search of the residential area where the beam that burned the pilots eyes
originated turned up only toy laser pointers. (At close
range, even these can damage an eye.)
Corneal Damage Suffered
The two UH-60 helicopter crew members sustained minor corneal
burns last week near the town of Zenica.
Injured were the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Steven McCoy, 37,
of Downey, Calif., and crew member Sgt. Juan Villareal, 37, of San
Antonio, Texas. Both are from the 1st Cavalry Division in Texas.
The two men have been temporarily removed from flight duty.
Whether the intent was hostile or just mischief is unclear, but it does
create a dilemma for the United States.
The problem is that these lasers can be extremely disruptive to American
military operations, says John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists, but not so provocative that we would respond with
Soldiers lives are not threatened, but their vision could begiving an
adversary that wants to irritate and annoy a low-cost way to do it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.