U.S. Peacekeepers Finish Bosnia Mission, Case Colors
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2004 The last U.S. peacekeeping troops in Bosnia are gone, as NATO turned over control of operations in the country to the European Union.
A ceremony Nov. 24 officially marked "mission complete and mission accomplished," said Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of U.S. Army Europe. The NATO countries decided to end the peacekeeping mission during the Istanbul Summit in June.
Task Force Eagle cased its colors during a ceremony at the American headquarters in Tuzla, Bosnia. "The extraordinary lengths our predecessors have gone to in order to set the conditions for a lasting peace humble us," said the final Task Force Eagle commander, Army Brig. Gen. T.J. Wright.
More than 100,000 U.S. personnel served in Operation Joint Endeavor since U.S. troops crossed the Sava River at the end of December 1995. Thousands more supported the servicemembers from bases in Italy, Germany and Hungary. The 1st Armored Division, which has recently returned from Iraq, was the lead in that operation.
In late 1995, more than 60,000 NATO troops poured into Bosnia following the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords on Dec. 14.
The NATO intervention came during the height of a terrible winter. Flooding delayed the U.S. portion of the operation. "We've seen that it can be extraordinarily challenging to operate in the kind of environment in which we are," said then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili after visiting troops in Tuzla.
"I had said early on, ours is not a fair-weather military," he said. "And despite the fact that we had this challenge thrown at us, I'm absolutely delighted that, as always, the young men and women, the young sergeants, the young unit leaders, were the ones (who) pulled it off."
Army engineers emplaced a tactical ribbon bridge over the Sava River that marks the boundary between Croatia and Bosnia. American soldiers then took up peacekeeping duties.
And they were needed. During the almost four-year war that preceded the Dayton Accords, more than 200,000 Serbs, Muslims and Croats were killed. About 2 million residents became refugees. Bosnia's capital -- Sarajevo, the home of the 1984 Winter Olympics -- was a ruined, bombed city. Under siege by Serb militias for two years, thousands of people had been killed. A particularly vicious shelling in August 1995 killed 37 innocent people in the city's main marketplace.
One road in Sarajevo earned the sobriquet of "Sniper Alley" because of the constant gunfire along it.
Tuzla, where the U.S. effort was headquartered, was a bit better off. Still, the area contained many flashpoints where Serbs lived next to Muslims who lived next to Croats.
American troops and their NATO allies immediately separated the warring parties. Civil affairs personnel went into the areas and worked with the various ethnic groups to better conditions in the country.
And it wasn't just NATO allies. A Russian brigade worked closely with U.S. soldiers, as did troops from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and many other countries.
The NATO troops that first went in as part of Operation Joint Endeavor were called the Implementation Force. In December 1996, that mandate ran out, and NATO created the Stabilization Force, which has been in place since.
The forces provided security for many elections since the crucial ones in 1996. Individual soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and DoD civilians worked during their free time to make life a little better for the people of the country. Soccer fields, schools, playgrounds, nurseries, churches, mosques -- all these and more benefited from the U.S. presence in the country.
The example that U.S. servicemembers set -- with troops of many backgrounds working together harmoniously -- also helped send a message to the people of the region.
Since NATO moved into the country, the number of troops on duty there has steadily decreased. When the Stabilization Force was created, there were 32,000 troops assigned to the mission. As the European Union Force takes charge, there are 7,000 NATO troops in the country -- with only 700 Americans.
EUFOR, as the new group will be known, will maintain the 7,000-member force level for the time being.