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Exercise Stresses Need to Cooperate in Bosnia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2005 – The experiences of hurricanes Katrina and Rita hammered home the need for people all over the United States to aid one another. But how does that work in an area where people not only are not used to working together, but also have a long history of hate?

National Guardsmen, first responders and nongovernmental agency volunteers from all over the United States and experts from foreign countries converged on the Gulf Coast following the massive destruction that Hurricane Katrina wreaked. While there were certainly shortcomings in the efforts, all concerned worked hard to alleviate the sufferings of the people in the region.

But in Bosnia, the situation may be somewhat different. There is historic animosity among the various ethnic groups. Croats, Serbs and Bosnian Muslims have held grudges against on another since Constantine divided the Roman Empire almost 2,000 years ago.

If there were a natural disaster in Bosnia, how could the various groups work together - or could they work together at all?

U.S. European Command sponsored a "tabletop" exercise that gathered representatives from all aspects of Bosnia and its neighbors to address the problem of response in the region.

Army Lt. Col. Rick McConoughey, a European Command liaison officer, coordinated the exercise in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The Army Corps of Engineers provided expertise and advice.

The exercise posited a major earthquake in the vicinity of Banja Luka, Bosnia. "This is not a farfetched idea," McConoughey said. "This is a very active region."

In the scenario, the earthquake causes extensive damage throughout the region, knocks out power-generating capacity, and severely damages the oil refinery and ancillary plants in the region. "The water is polluted, there's no power, the bridges in the region are collapsed. Now what?" McConoughey said.

Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece participated in the exercise. They worked with representatives from Bosnia's Republika Serpska and Bosnia-Hercegovina federal government to address the problems. United Nations and European Union representatives also observed and participated in the exercise.

The players had to set up emergency operations centers at each level of government. They had to link the centers together and push food, water, rescue personnel and medical aid to the stricken areas.

The levels of government had to learn how to communicate with one another and how to receive reports and sift through information from the stricken areas.

"The exercise went well," the colonel said. "There was no acrimony among the representatives gathered for the exercise."

He said the representatives of Bosnia-Hercegovina accomplished the goals of the exercise. "It's a rudimentary capability right now, but they are moving in the right direction," he said.

The exercise pointed to the need for mutual aid agreements in the region and for further contacts among the players. And, as if to underscore the importance of the exercise, a 5.2 magnitude earthquake struck 40 kilometers south of Mostar, McConoughey said. There were no casualties.

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