NATO Forces Could Be Out of Bosnia by End of 2004
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
MUNICH, Germany, Feb. 6, 2004 NATO defense ministers here today discussed the possibility of pulling all NATO peacekeeping troops out of Bosnia by the end of this year.
In a press conference here this evening, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the possible termination of the Stabilization Force mission and a follow-on force of European Union troops was a topic of discussion.
"This is important for NATO, and it's also important for the Bosnian people," Rumsfeld said. "Our objective is to help the Bosnian government re-establish full sovereignty and self-government."
NATO forces have been in Bosnia since the Dayton Accords brokered an end to civil war there in late 1995.
A senior U.S. official speaking on background explained that Bosnia doesn't need SFOR any longer.
"Bosnia is peaceful," the official said. "There hasn't been a single combat death of any of the peacekeepers in 8 years."
The European Union has offered to replace NATO peacekeepers with a mixed police and military force. U.S. officials would like to see a small NATO headquarters, led by an American two-star general, remain in Sarajevo.
The NATO headquarters would oversee three missions:
- Work on defense reform with the Bosnian government. "That's very important for the Bosnian government," the official said, adding that Bosnia wants to enter NATO's Partnership for Peace program and eventually apply for NATO membership.
- Help the Bosnian government with counterterrorism. NATO has been concerned about foreign fighters using Bosnia as a training ground.
- Remain dedicated to capturing indicted war criminals, particularly former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Radko Mladic.
The U.S. official said the American government feels "very, very strongly" that these two indicted war criminals be brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague.
"We've been in Bosnia so long we feel a responsibility to see that job through," he said.