Bosnia Stable, but Peace Still 'Brittle'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
EAGLE BASE, Bosnia, Sept. 18, 2003 The military jobs mandated by 1995's Dayton Accords are just about completed, but stability in Bosnia is "brittle" and still requires the Stabilization Force, military officials here said.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers toured Eagle Base and Camp McGovern Sept. 18. He met with Stabilization Force commander Army Lt. Gen. William Ward and with the American contingent commander, Army Brig. Gen. Ron Mason.
Mason, commander of the Multinational Brigade (North) and a National Guardsman from the 35th Infantry Division, said the apparent stability in Bosnia is superficial. "There are deep-seated feelings here," he said. He said there is a commitment to peace, but it is tenuous and could easily die.
"They need to develop the civilian capabilities that would make this stability continue on its own," Mason said.
And his troops agree. "I was here while I was on active duty in 1996," said one soldier. "Now we still deal with what I call 'hate crime' incidents. I firmly believe that if NATO left, the fighting would break out again."
The soldier still said conditions in the country are "light years" better than they were during his first deployment. "There were several incidents a day then," he said. He said in 1996 there were revenge killings, and criminal gangs were still using the unrest to terrorize and blackmail whole villages.
He said soldiers seldom see that now, and whenever he feels pessimistic about the situation in Bosnia, he just remembers what it was once like.
The NATO troops who patrol Bosnia still have missions. At Camp McGovern, soldiers demonstrated the way they search houses. "This is not just something cool to show the chairman," said one soldier, a member of the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard. "We really do this."
The 34th is taking over the stabilization mission from the 35th, another National Guard unit, with headquarters at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The 34th is the latest in a string of Guard units commanding in Bosnia. Units from 22 states are built around the 34th Division's command staff.
Mason said that for deployments such as Bosnia, the National Guard troops are a good fit. "They have experience," he said. "They are generally a bit older and have dealt with more things in life. In some cases, their civilian jobs help. We have a number of soldiers who are police officers in civilian life."
Another Minnesota soldier said troops there need to guard against the feeling that Bosnia is like the United States. "It really doesn't feel like a deployment yet," he said. "These people look like us and act like us. The terrain looks like many places in the States. It's only when you go into a village and see a minaret attached to a mosque that you realize this is somewhere different."
Ward said that day to day, the situation in Bosnia is stable and peaceful. "But that is not irreversible," he said. "What we need to continue to do in this country is implement those reforms ... that will make the country more stable."
Ward, whose headquarters is in Sarajevo, said the Bosnians need to reform their economic and tax systems. He said the country needs to implement defense reforms and must stress the rule of law for all citizens.
Myers said the military job in Bosnia is "virtually complete." He said from simply flying over the country "you can see the tremendous progress that's been made." He said much of the credit belongs to the NATO forces that have been in Bosnia since December 1995. Myers said more needs to be done primarily on the political and economic side.
This does not mean that NATO will leave, nor does it mean the United States will leave unilaterally, the chairman noted. First, he said, civilian implementation does lag. Second, Myers pointed out that the Bosnia mission is a NATO mission and the United States subscribes to the "in together, out together" philosophy.
Myers said NATO officials continually monitor the threats in Bosnia and the forces needed to counter those threats. He said NATO commanders - in consultation with commanders on the ground - will set the troop levels. He expects the number of troops to drop in the future, but would not hazard a guess on how large that decline might be.