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Elections Key to Americans Leaving Bosnia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 10, 1996 – What happens between now and Bosnian elections will dictate how soon American service members can leave, said Gen. George Joulwan during a Pentagon news briefing.

Joulwan, in town for the commander in chief conference with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said the operation is on track. "The troops are behaving superbly," he said. "They have done everything they have been asked to do well."

Joulwan, supreme allied commander, Europe, said when American service members leave the war-torn country depends on how much progress is made between now and when elections are held. "We are concentrating on the elections," Joulwan said. "How they go influences much of what we do later."

Police protection, dealing with refugees and infrastructure improvements also influence when NATO forces begin leaving.

Joulwan listed separating the warring factions, getting heavy weapons into cantonments and helping open up Bosnia as the main accomplishments of the implementation force to date.

Joulwan said NATO forces have repaired or built 51 bridges in 120 days of the operation. This has reconnected Bosnia to the rest of Europe. In addition, all main roads in the country have reopened and 50 percent of the rail lines in the country are working. "The rail lines are working so well that [Maj.] Gen. Nash [U.S. 1st Armored Division commander] is shipping his fuel by rail," Joulwan said.

When American troops will leave is still up in the air, he said. A mission-capable IFOR will remain in Bosnia beyond a year, Joulwan said, and there will be no decrease in the allied force until after Bosnia's September elections. Those elections must be held by September, according to the Dayton peace accords.

Joulwan said he anticipates an adjustment in NATO's force mix between June and September. "We are asking if we need [for example] more engineers," he said. "We will probably do this as units rotate in and out." He said there will be no increase in the number participating in Joint Endeavor.

Joulwan said forces are working with civil authorities to guarantee freedom of movement in the country and are working with members of the U.N. High Commission on Refugees to place people back in their homes.

He said he has high hopes for the International Police Task Force now operational in the country. The task force will aid in policing the area and training local police to work together.

NATO forces are also providing protection for the international tribunal examining sites in Bosnia for evidence of possible war crimes.

Joulwan said American forces and their NATO allies must maintain their focus and "keep their heads in the game." He said U.S. troop morale is extremely high, and part of this is because American service members "understand this very complicated mission."

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