8,500 U.S. Troops to Participate in Bosnia Stabilization Force
By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 1996 The United States will commit 8,500 troops to a new 31,000member NATO stabilization force in Bosnia. Defense officials said this will extend the U.S. military presence there until June 1998.
In his weekly radio address Nov. 16, President Clinton praised American troops from the NATOled implementation force that deployed a year ago. "IFOR has completed its mission more successfully than anyone expected, ending the fighting, separating the forces [and] creating security for democratic elections," said Clinton.
However, he said IFOR's military achievements are far ahead of the civilian goals the administration had hoped to accomplish at the signing of the Bosnia peace accord last year in Dayton, Ohio. Problems with bringing the political factions together, rebuilding the economic structure and establishing an international police force warrant a continued U.S. presence, he added.
"NATO has been studying options to help give the Bosnian people more time with a new security presence in Bosnia when IFOR withdraws," said Clinton. "Having carefully reviewed these options, I have agreed that America should take part."
Pentagon officials said the new commitment calls for an additional deployment of NATO and nonNATO troops to replace members of IFOR. Then, every six months, NATO will reevaluate the Bosnian mission and reduce the number of troops, if needed. Officials said those numbers could drop to 13,500 by next autumn and signal a complete NATO withdrawal by June 1998.
By that time, Defense Secretary William Perry said, he hopes to see a military balance in Bosnia with municipal elections and political reconciliation within the country. "The principal role of the military followon force is to provide the secure environment which allows these civilian organizations to accomplish these other missions," said Perry.
In tackling the new mission, defense officials said the main emphasis of the stabilization force, dubbed the SFOR, is to deter hostilities among the three Bosnian factions. Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the new group will have "all that which made IFOR successful, but it will be a smaller force."
The chairman said U.S. Army Gen. William Crouch, who on Nov. 7 took command of the implementation force from U.S. Navy Adm. Thomas J. Lopez, will assume command of the stabilization force. Crouch is currently commander of both U.S. Army Europe and NATO's Allied Central Forces in Europe.
Shalikashvili said DoD has not identified specific units to support the new mission. "[U.S.] European Command will be responsible for drawing up the troop list," he said. "They, in turn, will be drawing on forces in the United States and perhaps others."
While the United States makes plans to commit new troops to Bosnia, troops currently serving in IFOR are preparing to return to home bases in Germany and stateside. In praising their efforts, Perry said soldiers of the 1st Armored Division and their support elements would be back at their home bases by Dec. 20.
"The IFOR mission has been successfully completed," said Perry. "We have achieved every aspect of the military annex and the Dayton agreement ... and we've done it with remarkably high success and remarkably few casualties." He said tasks included forming a demilitarized zone between the factions, forcing all warring parties to move their armies and heavy weapons back into cantonments, transferring territory and forcing the withdrawal of foreign forces.
Perry said IFOR's success came from having a powerful force a force the Pentagon sized to be strong and to intimidate any potential opposition. Defense officials said problems that still need watching prevent the United States from completely withdrawing all its forces from the region.
Perry said the conditions for peace still do not exist in Bosnia and the war might quickly resume if NATO were to leave Bosnia next month. Despite NATO efforts, Perry said, there is a fertile breeding ground for violence. Issues include refugee resettlement, political party stability and no local elections.
"Our concern, then, is that without the military presence, there would be hot spots all over Bosnia any one of which could spin out of control and escalate to a general war," said Perry.
He said he expects the allies to provide more resources to carry out civil missions during this second phase. He also said he expects the Bosnians themselves to take more responsibility for rebuilding their country.