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US tunnel detection system left unfinished

June 8, 2010 12:13 P.M. (Updated: June 9, 2010 11:44 A.M.)
Gaza – Ma'an – US military experts installing a network of tunnel detection equipment along the Egypt - Gaza border left the area ahead of schedule following the opening of the Rafah crossing, Egyptian officials said, citing security concerns.

Four US army engineers began work in early 2009, supervising the installation of a 13.5 kilometer long tunnel detection network which was essentially completed last month, with only follow-up training left on the agenda.

With the early departure of the experts, however, Egyptian officials said sporadic follow-up visits will have to be arranged so officers running the network can continue training and maintenance.

Two main monitoring compartments and eighteen subsidiary compartments were installed along the borders every 600 meters, officials explained. Each subsidiary compartment has a ten-meter-long cable running vertically underground with a censor at the end. Censor's will reportedly detect movement underground, signaling digging or transportation of goods in known tunnel areas.

All subsidiary compartments send reports to the main compartments which print a chart detailing the direction of the movements. Based on the chart, a small digger will drill a vertical hole into the tunnel and insert a camera for observation. Another digger will drill a hole to show the tunnel end at the Egyptian side, so police can either fill up the opening, or destroy it with explosives.

An admitted snag in the multi-million dollar system, Egyptian officials admit, is the un-accounted for ability of tunnel diggers to change course underground if the original tunnel-mouth is filled-in or destroyed.

The only failsafe mechanism, officials noted, was when US engineers informed Israeli officials of the whereabouts of the Gaza-opening of the tunnel, which was obliterated by Israeli air strikes.

The detection mechanism was a final attempt at monitoring the tunnel industry, after officials admitted that the steel wall inserted some 30 meters underground was a failure, with more than 450 estimated tunnels already having cut through the wall. Officials said tunnel owners paid some 10,000 US dollars to have welders spend days in the tunnels and cut through the wall.
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