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Bosnia Mission Continues for 250 U.S. Troops

By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2005 – Ten years ago, under the auspices of NATO, tens of thousands of U.S. forces entered Bosnia-Herzegovina to end a war, enforce a peace, and separate two warring armies in the same state.

Today, less than 250 U.S. servicemembers remain, part of a NATO presence of roughly 300 headquartered in Sarajevo to assist with military reform, pursue war criminals, and combat terrorism.

"The country has come a long way in 10 years," said Army Lt. Col. Rick McConoughey, a member of the Joint Contact Team in Sarajevo. "It's not the hostile place it used to be."

Navy Rear Adm. Donald Loren, who visits the region frequently, agreed. "Bosnia is a real success story," he said, noting that the remaining military aspects of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords were fulfilled in December 2004. Loren is deputy director of political-military affairs for Europe, NATO, Russia and Africa on the Joint Staff.

Ten years ago, Operation Joint Endeavor was the largest military operation ever undertaken by NATO and included troops from every NATO nation with an organized military. Charged with implementing the military aspects of the Dayton Accords, the multinational force was responsible for transferring territory between the two entities according to the peace agreement and moving both sides' heavy weapons into approved sites. NATO forces patrolled the demilitarized boundary line, enabled implementation of the civil aspects of the Dayton Accords, and provided support for political elections.

The initial Implementation Force, known as IFOR, numbered about 60,000. Its successor, SFOR, or Stabilization Force, was about half that size, or 32,000 troops. SFOR's mission was to stabilize the IFOR-established peace.

Eventually, SFOR forces were reduced to 12,000, and later 7,000 multinational soldiers, 15 percent of them Americans. The SFOR mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina ended on Dec. 2, 2004, when implementation of the military aspects of the Dayton Accords was complete.

"While we have not yet finished all we want to accomplish, we are well down the road to creating a single country from the two that were forced together," McConoughey said. "The border between the formerly warring states is no more armed than the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Driving across, a road sign is the only indication that you have left one area and entered another. I think that's a good indication of how far things have come," he said.

Nevertheless, evidence of the bloody three-year conflict exists side by side with that of progress, he said, especially in Sarajevo, where modern buildings are juxtaposed eerily alongside bombed out buildings and other structures still pocked by bullet holes or evidence of hits by mortar rounds. One good example of this is the 21-story glass tower that houses NATO and U.S. European Command personnel. Reflected in its gleaming panels is the devastated former parliament building, yet to be repaired, across the street.

"Still, slowly but surely, they are erasing all traces of the war," McConoughey said. "Some destroyed buildings, like Parliament, still exist, but construction and reconstruction continues. Housing is in a huge rebuilding phase -- repairing old houses, building new ones, and replacing sidewalks dimpled by mortar rounds. It's a good sign that people believe in the future," he said.

The Joint Contact Program, which McConoughey heads up, is another way the United States is helping Bosnia-Herzegovina continue its recovery. "The bilateral program between the U.S. and Bosnia, brings small groups of U.S. military personnel to Bosnia to familiarize people here with the way the U.S. military does business," he said.

Similarly, state partnership programs pair up U.S doctors, businessmen, lawyers and educators with their Bosnian counterparts for short seminars that explain to those in non-military areas of the new government how to provide better services to their people. This month, for example, three doctors from Illinois are conducting a three-day seminar on how family medical practices operate in the United States.

"There is still more to do, but anyone who was here 10 years ago would be amazed by the progress," McConoughey said.

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